As Syracuse enters life without Rakeem Christmas in 2015-16, it's unclear exactly how head coach Jim Boeheim will distribute minutes at center. Assumed starter DaJuan Coleman has been out of basketball for nearly two full years with knee problems, making it unlikely that he'll average anywhere close to the 34.3 minutes per game that Christmas averaged last season. Instead, even if he's productive and fully healthy, Coleman will need to be spelled from time to time.
When Coleman is on the bench, the Orange will have the personnel -- that being its abundance of guards -- to experiment with small lineups featuring Tyler Roberson at center. But as attractive as that sounds from an offensive standpoint, it would be less than ideal to have a pure forward like Roberson patrolling the paint in the 2-3 zone. At the same time, there's no real reason to believe that junior center Chinonso Obokoh will be drastically better than the player who looked lost whenever he saw the floor last season.
Boeheim's best option, then, despite a history of favoring his veteran players, might be to give freshman Moustapha Diagne significant time at center. Diagne is far from a finished product, especially offensively, but after watching him on tape, I'm convinced he'll be a viable anchor of Syracuse's zone.
Diagne is a proficient rim protector, something that's always important for centers but especially crucial in the 2-3 zone. He's constantly altering shots, even when he's not blocking them. That can be credited to his long arms, which help make up for what he lacks in height at 6-foot-8.
And when opposing high school offenses drew Diagne away from the rim with pick-and-rolls, he hardly looked uncomfortable defending the perimeter. He moves well and closes out quickly on shooters, while those long arms enable him to block jump shots. (Diagne won't frequently be defending away from the basket when he's playing center for the Orange, but it reaffirms the belief that he can also play forward.)
So it's no secret: Diagne prospers on the defensive end. It's on offense, though, where he's still very raw. In high school, he often drifted away from the basket and didn't shy away from taking jumpers. But he's an inconsistent shooter, as most of his shots clank off the rim.
In the low post, meanwhile, Diagne doesn't have a go-to move and sometimes misses layups from point-blank range. At other times, he catches the ball several feet from the basket and attempts to post-up defenders from there. He'll need to learn to position himself closer to the basket, so he can catch the ball and have a realistic chance to go straight up and score.
Speaking of catching the ball, Diagne struggles just to do that sometimes. He'll occasionally drop easy passes, resulting in bad and simply unnecessary turnovers.
Diagne is, however, a surprisingly good passer himself. He has good vision and makes nice passes out of the low post. It's another reason for Boeheim to play the Senegal native right away, since the Orange's core includes a number of shooters who would thrive off of a decent passing big man.
But if Diagne's going to play, he's obviously going to need to be eligible. And though we haven't received confirmation that he won't be eligible to play this season, we also haven't received confirmation that he will be.
That's not comforting, especially when you realize how important he might be to SU's success in 2015-16. Diagne isn't even Syracuse's most talented incoming freshman -- that honor goes to Malachi Richardson -- but the lack of frontcourt depth makes him one of the team's most valuable players. Losing him could be a major blow.