Fab Melo's (hopefully) temporary absence from the Syracuse lineup this past Saturday exposed a weakness in the formerly #1 ranked Orange's previously unblemished resume: interior play.
While watching the Melo-less Orange get tossed around by Jack Cooley in their loss to Notre Dame, I came across a tweet that jokingly asked if recruit DaJuan Coleman could be 'called up' to fill in. While college hoops obviously doesn't work the same way as minor league hockey or baseball, that tweet got me to thinking:
SU is going to be LOADED up front next season.
Assuming Fab gets his house in order and rejoins the team, and assuming that he sticks around for another season - major assumptions, I know - the Orange could boast a big man rotation that would rival a few NBA squads in terms of height and athleticism. We know about the three current players who have spent time in the middle for SU this season: Melo, Baye Keita, and Rakeem Christmas. All three have had their ups and downs, and all three have obvious weaknesses that need to be addressed. Melo, his well-chronicled improvements notwithstanding, is still very mechanical on the offensive end. Aside from the occasional jump shot, most of his points come on putbacks and lobs. We know Keita needs work on his ballhandling and physical strength. Christmas is still learning the intricacies of the 2-3 zone, and like most freshmen is getting used to the speed and skill level of major college basketball. With the rest of this season and all summer to improve, these three could really be something to watch next fall.
But back to Coleman. I was able to catch him in person last Friday night as his Jamesville-DeWitt Red Rams took on nearby rivals Christian Brothers Academy. I specifically chose this game because the Brothers boast a near-seven footer of their own, 6'11" senior center Dylan Haines. Now to be fair, Haines isn't quite the athlete the 6'8", 270 pound Coleman is, nor does he possess the bulk, giving up around 50-60 pounds. Coleman and his teammate, 6'8" Wake Forest signee Tyler Cavanaugh, spent much of the game trading off on guarding Haines, who preferred to play out on the wings. In fact, 9 of Haines' 16 points came from behind the arc.
However, the perimeter ploy didn't slow down Coleman, nor did it help the Brothers get the win. In the second quarter Coleman asserted himself, bullying through CBA double and triple teams and registering a trio of thunderous dunks to fire up the Red Rams faithful. He was able to regularly muscle his way to the basket, with all ten of his made field goals coming on layups, dunks, or other interior shots - including one hook shot across the lane. He also controlled the glass, adding 14 boards to his 22 points in a 69-47 win for J-D.
Note: I was having trouble getting my camera to focus and missed most of the big dunk at the front end of the above clip. Sorry about that. You can view game highlights from a different angle starting at about the :38 mark of the clip below.
For those of you who are wondering about Coleman's actual height, Haines has him by two or three inches. Take that for what you will.
If there are a couple of deficiencies that Coleman needs to work on right away, they are foot speed and shooting touch. It stands to reason that he will spend a decent amount of time at the power forward spot in college, where he will have to chase around quicker and better conditioned players like C.J. Fair and James Southerland… and that's just in practice. He told me last week that he wants to work on his perimeter game, which I think will in turn help his sometimes inconsistent free throw shooting. His stroke looks decent though, so I don't think we'll have another A.O. situation on our hands.