Prior to the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball game against N.C. State on Sunday night, senior center Bourama Sidibe warmed up extensively for the first time since he tore his left meniscus in the season-opener. He had surgery on Dec. 1. Sidibe was expected to be out four weeks. He’s missed eight.
Sidibe returned to practice in the week leading up to the N.C. State game. Jim Boeheim said in the post-game presser that Syracuse is hopeful to have its senior center back against Louisville on Wednesday.
“We think Bourama might be able to play a little bit Wednesday,” Boeheim began. “He practiced a little bit but I don’t think he was full-ready to go. He said he might be able to play today but he didn’t really act like he was. We think he might be able to go a little bit on Wednesday.”
Syracuse has struggled to defend and rebound the ball in Sidibe’s absence. The Orange ranked No. 78 in KenPom defensive efficiency heading into Sunday night, considerably low by Syracuse standards. The team is just tenth in the ACC in rebounding margin at -1.2. The Wolfpack, worse at -3.1, still out-rebounded the Orange in Sunday’s contest 37-35. Ipso facto, Syracuse won its first game of the season when getting out-rebounded, moving to 1-5 in that category.
With Sidibe out, senior forward Marek Dolezaj has played out of position by taking on the center responsibilities. Boeheim has noted the struggles of not having a true center to anchor the 2-3 zone. At various points of the season he’s mentioned how Dolezaj at center helps the offense, but hurts the defense.
Sophomore Jesse Edwards has played backup minutes behind Dolezaj, but playing time has proven to be few and far between.
“I can’t describe what he did out there,” Boeheim said of Edwards. “When you let a 6’2” guy come in and make a layup and you’re 7-foot you just can’t play. You can’t play. That’s the bottom line.”
Instead, Boeheim has elected to run Dolezaj in the middle almost exclusively. He thinks the forwards still need to help the center position more on the defensive end.
“Marek’s done an unbelievable job out there. Staying out of foul trouble playing the middle, helping create offense,” Boeheim continued. “He’s playing great. You can’t ask any more out of a guy.”
Dolezaj finished his night with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. He hit two clutch free throws during a one-and-one late that pushed Syracuse’s lead to two possessions.
Having Sidibe back isn’t a panacea to Syracuse’s defensive issues as much as it would be a step in the right direction. Dolezaj could move back to his natural forward position and play a more limited role at center behind Sidibe.
“Marek’s fighting a war out there by himself. We’ve got to help him on the defensive end if we’re going to have any success the rest of the way,” Boeheim finished.