We’re halfway through our analysis of the 2020 Syracuse men’s basketball season. We’ve covered the guards and the forwards, and now it’s time to tackle the centers.
This year was especially tough for the center position. Foul trouble, poor positioning, and plain old lack of “bulk” were a major challenge for the Syracuse Orange all season, especially on the defensive end.
The position does hold a lot of promise for the future however, so there is certainly cause for optimism. But I digress, let’s get on with the grades!
Once again, each player will be graded for both offense and defense, as well as given an overall grade. The entire position will receive grades as a unit as well.
As previously mentioned, Dolezaj will be graded here amongst the centers to better balance the articles, but his grades will be reflective of his entire time on the court.
Marek Dolezaj is so much fun to watch on the offensive end. He’s a whirling derbish of flailing limbs, awkward angles, and yet somehow, made baskets. Marek had a Dirk Nowitzki-like ability to put the ball in the hoop, albeit to a significantly lesser degree than the former NBA Finals MVP.
Aside for Dolezaj’s gawky drives to the hoop, he was also an adept passer. By season’s end, our offense often ran through Marek, especially if Hughes was bottled up with tight defense. And he didn’t disappoint. He almost always made a great decision with the ball and tallied 88 assists on the year.
If he can improve his outside shooting (he made 11 threes and shot 38 percent as a sophomore, so it’s conceivable) he could be a dynamic weapon for us next year.
All I want for quarantine is for you to lift weights and eat 10,000 (nutritious) calories a day... or just a lot of pizza.
Every SU fan in existence
Honestly, with a little added weight, Dolezaj could have a breakout year on the defensive end next year. In his natural position as a forward, he did a fantastic job of containing plays, funneling players into the teeth of the defense, and being an Energizer bunny.
At center, it fell apart. Especially against any team with size or athleticism on the interior. Unfortunately for Dolezaj, he was just too thin and got pushed around with reckless abandon at times this season.
With 15 more pounds of muscle, though? Whole different ball game.
Make it happen, Marek.
Dolezaj showed us a lot this year. He expanded his offensive game quite a bit, and his coast-to-coast romps were a thing of beauty. On defense, he gave 100 percent on every single play and won us so many possessions with his intelligence.... other than the silly fouls, obviously.
The fact of the matter is, for huge chunks of the season, Bourama Sidibe was invisible on the offensive end. And these grades are based on the entire season, not the last four or five games. If it was just those games, this grade would be considerably higher.
If Sidibe can channel the end of the season into an entire year next year, amazing things will happen for this Syracuse Orange team. Having a center who can stay in the game, rebound the way Sidibe does, and occasionally contribute on offense would be a game-changer. As we saw against North Carolina (twice), it’s certainly possible.
Unfortunately, that was the exception, not the rule this season. Sidibe fouled out of ten games this season. Ten. He had four fouls in 16 others. That means, in 26 of the team’s 32 games, he was in significant foul trouble, or ineligible. There was a stretch of 12 straight games where Sidibe had four or more fouls, including a stretch of five straight where he fouled out.
That can’t happen next year.
Similar to why the offensive score is low, Sidibe’s defense suffered from him simply not being on the court enough. He also struggled quite a bit with his footwork for the first half of the season. I think two straight years of knee injuries made him incredibly sluggish, and a bit hesitant, on the defensive end.
For the first two thirds of the season, he was slow to react and gave up countless easy baskets down low, often fouling in the process and giving up the three point play. He was tentative and often lacked aggression.
However, he was a sensational defensive rebounder all season, and also did an excellent job getting his hands into the passing lanes (he was second on the team in steals).
Additionally, something really clicked towards the end of the season, and there was a marked change in Sidibe’s demeanor. In that first North Carolina game, it was almost like he came out of his shell. The best part is, he never really went back in it.
If we can get that Sidibe for 25-30 minutes every night, this will be a completely different team next year.
Bourama Sidibe had a lot of problems on both ends of the court this year, but made some tremendous progress by year’s end. He was a tenacious rebounder and developed into a solid post defender, so there is plenty of hope for him to drastically improve next year. Perhaps we’ll see a mini Rakeem Christmas senior year transformation?
A man can dream...
Much like our backup guards, Edwards didn’t get a lot of opportunities on the court. He was the third center in the rotation and was usually only in during cleanup duty or heavy foul trouble.
His contributions on the offensive end ran the gamut, but in general he was quite efficient when he had the ball. He shot a ridiculous 79.2 percent from the field in limited attempts, but also showcased a solid repertoire of moves and a very athletic, mobile frame.
This grade is as high as it is based on potential.
Edwards got manhandled on the defensive end most of the time. He just wasn’t really ready for the physicality of the ACC, and it showed. Even so, he did make some solid plays at times and did show a lot of promise, which is the main reason this grade isn’t higher.
Tough to grade with such limited opportunity. There’s a lot to like about Edwards, but he has a lot of work to do in the offseason. If he can put on some weight and improve his positioning on the defensive end, he could work his way into a more consistent rotation at center next year.
Dolezaj was solid on the offensive end, and a major mismatch for opposing centers. Sidibe came on strong at the end of the year. Edwards showed glimpses of greatness. Combined, they were “okay” on the offensive end.
Defense was a struggle for all of the centers. If it weren’t for the late-season improvement of Sidibe, this grade would be even worse. A great defensive center can make up for a lot of other weaknesses in the zone, and we just didn’t have that. There were many games we didn’t even have an average defensive center.
We’re going to need more from the center position next year if we want to stay competitive. We need Sidibe to take a permanent leap, for Edwards to improve, or for Jon Bol Ajak to step up coming off his redshirt year. Consistency at center will be a huge key next year, just like it was this year.