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 kind of season will Marek Dolezaj have?
Think back to two years ago when Syracuse played Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Orange got their first win ever in the conference tournament, with Marek Dolezaj leading the way.
The Slovakian center scored a career-high 20 points as SU outlasted the Demon Deacons, 73-64. It was a harbinger of things to come, as he averaged 11.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in the final six games of the season. The Orange made an improbable run to the Sweet 16, upsetting second-seeded Michigan State along the way.
It led to raised expectations in Dolezaj’s sophomore year, and in some ways, Dolezaj improved.
For starters, Dolezaj vastly improved his outside shooting. He shot just 22.2 percent from 3-point land in his rookie season, a number that went up to 37.9 percent in his sophomore campaign. In six less minutes per game, he also averaged .5 more steals per game.
But overall, it was still a disappointing campaign for Dolezaj. His stats dropped across the board, including points (5.8 to 4.1 ppg) and rebounds (4.8 to 3.5 rpg).
“With the type of team we had last year, he didn’t get to make as many plays because of Tyus (Battle), Oshae (Brissett), Frank (Howard) and, to some extent, Elijah (Hughes) since they were all playmakers,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
But Battle, Brissett and Howard have moved on, and the opportunities for Dolezaj to become a critical part of the SU offense will be there.
“He’s a guy that does a lot of things for us when he’s out there regardless of where he’s playing. He’s a playmaker and there’s not many 6’10” guys that are playmakers, but he certainly is one,” Boeheim said. “I think this year, with change in the lineup, Marek is going to have an opportunity to do more with the ball and be more of a playmaker, which I think will be good for us.”
Dolezaj’s versatility has always been good for Syracuse. At 6’10”, he has the height to play center, and has been pressed into the role with the offensive struggles of Bourama Sidibe and Paschal Chukwu. Though Dolezaj weighs only 185 pounds, his diverse offensive repertoire was too good to leave on the bench.
But wing is Dolezaj’s true position, and with the additions of Jessie Edwards, John Bol Ajak and the improved health of Sidibe, Dolezaj should see less time at center.
Syracuse also needs experience at wing. Though Hughes is returning, the other wing spot will be an open competition. Freshmen Quincy Guerrier and sophomore Robert Braswell both have shown promise, but Boeheim has been known to go with upperclassmen, and Dolezaj is the only person who fits that bill.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays center at times this year,” Boeheim said. “But, I think we’re pretty flexible with where guys are going to play and we’ll see how it goes.”
For the record, Dolezaj doesn’t care what position he plays.
Said Dolezaj: “I’m just going to play basketball and just be on the court, help the team, and it doesn’t matter if I play center or forward.”