As we countdown to tipoff in November, we’re going to be tackling the biggest burning questions on the 2019-20 Syracuse basketball team. Today’s burning question: What will Syracuse get out of center Bourama Sidibe?
Think back to a moment to Bourama Sidibe’s freshman year, and one game in particular comes to mind. On a brisk afternoon in late January in Pittsburgh, Sidibe played the game of his young career, grabbing 16 rebounds and adding 18 points as Syracuse held off the Panthers (who went 0-18 in ACC play that year) 60-55.
“I thought he had like 12 (points) and 12 (rebounds) or something, or 12 and 10,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. “Good thing I didn’t take him out.”
Unfortunately for Syracuse, that Jan. 27, 2018 performance turned out to be the aberration instead of the rule. In the 14 games that followed, Sidibe would only score a combined 21 points, slowed by tendinitis in his knee.
He finished his freshman year with disappointing numbers of 2.7 points and 3.2 rebounds.
That injury carried through to his sophomore year, resulting in another disappointing campaign. After an 11-point, 10-rebound performance in an early season game against Colgate, Sidibe didn’t crack double digits again for the rest of the year.
Sidibe was largely a non-factor in the final stretch of the season, and didn’t play in Syracuse’s disappointing opening round loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament.
But there is buzz around Sidibe heading into his junior year. With Paschual Chukwu having moved on from Syracuse, Sidibe is SU’s de facto starting center, and Sidibe, for the first time in his Syracuse career, his healthy.
That was evident in the Orange’s exhibition swing through Italy in July. Sidibe was moving fluidly, and though it was significantly weaker competition, Sidibe averaged 8.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in roughly 20 minutes a game. In the final game against Virtus Roma, he scored only six points but grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds.
If Sidibe can remain healthy, he can give the Orange something they haven’t had since Rakeem Christmas—a low post presence. Sidibe’s inside game will only be bolstered by several sharpshooters along the perimeter, including Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Brycen Goodine, which will allow proper spacing and give Sidibe an opportunity to score inside.
A healthy Sidibe would also greatly benefit the zone. With a legitimate shotblocking center who gobbles up rebounds, the zone would be able to extend out further against shooters.
Aside from that, the other two areas Sidibe will need to improve on to be an effective center will be to stay out of foul trouble and to improve his free throw percentage.
Despite only averaging 10.1 minutes per game in his sophomore year, Sidibe still averaged 2.3 fouls per game. As Syracuse’s top center, he will need to reduce his fouling by at least 50 percent if he wants to stay on the floor long enough to be effective.
Sidibe is also a poor free throw shooter, hitting 47.5 percent in his freshman year and 39.5 percent his sophomore year. As old adage goes: “Free throws matter.” And if Sidibe is going to play in critical minutes, he will need to be a far more effective shooter at the charity stripe.
But the opportunity is certainly there for Sidibe to improve in all areas. Though Syracuse has two other centers on the roster, Jessie Edwards and John Bol Ajak, both are raw and Boeheim has had a long history of going with players who have experience.
An ineffective Sidibe would force Marek Dolezaj to play center. Though Dolezaj, who is still only pushing 190 pounds, is more suited as a wing, and would only be effective for 10-15 minutes per game at center. It would be far better for Syracuse if Sidibe would remain healthy and play 25-30 effective minutes.