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How a possible Marek Dolezaj departure could affect Syracuse basketball next year

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We’re not assuming anything just yet, though he’d certainly make plenty of money opting to play in Europe if he so chose to.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a long way away from figuring out what next season’s Syracuse Orange men’s basketball lineup looks like. Yet, it’s always fun to take some guesses based on what we know.

On Thursday, a story from Syracuse.com’s Donna Ditota indicates that senior forward Marek Dolezaj has yet to make a decision about whether he’ll utilize a fifth year of eligibility next year and return to the Orange. That’s not necessarily a surprise at this juncture, but it would make sense to see the pizza fanatic from Slovakia opt to go pro in Europe, where he stands to make six figures per year with ease.

If Dolezaj returned to SU, it seems unlikely he’d be able to develop his game much more, and could potentially be utilized at center once more, where he’s certainly put in effort but is also undersized. Despite him being one of the program’s more efficient offensive weapons in recent years too, they’ve yet to really figure out how to use him.

While the roster can and will change this offseason, it’s questionable how much about his use would really adjust. Theoretically, there’s a chance that Jesse Edwards is ready to jump in and/or Bourama Sidibe’s healthy and those two man the five, allowing Dolezaj to platoon at a more natural power forward position with Quincy Guerrier if he returned or Robert Braswell. Still, even in that scenario, it’ll likely mean fewer minutes or more time at center.

So looking at a possible lineup shift without the senior, what could that mean instead?

Well, it would certainly thrust the younger big men into the spotlight for one. Edwards hasn’t played much of late, but appears to be an effective offensive weapon in spots, with some room to grow on defense. It’s tough to know what we have in John Bol Ajak and Frank Anselem at this juncture. And Bourama Sidibe’s been injured so much to this point that it’s worth wondering if we really ever see him at full strength again.

While Dolezaj hasn’t been a perfect solution at center, he’s a capable defender and solid offensive player who’s helped Syracuse address a need no one else on the roster really can at this juncture. And as you can see above, next year’s roster doesn’t necessarily have a solution there either, unless there’s a leap from Edwards/Sidibe/JBA/Anselem or the team winds up landing a blue-chip big man for 2022.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A Dolezaj-less frontcourt would need one of those players at center to start a game (again, unless we have a blue-chip freshman — unlikely), plus more minutes from another. The four gets manned by Guerrier, primarily, if he stays. And then more minutes likely go to Braswell or Woody Newton. The former player is probably the better defender at this juncture, but Newton’s a quality offensive option in the limited time we’ve seen him. One would think there’s a big of a logjam at power forward if Dolezaj/Guerrier, Braswell and Newton all came back, so... we’ll see what happens there.

Without Dolezaj, the Orange would rely more heavily on the guards to run the offense, which could have mixed returns given efficiency. But if they were able to transition into distributor roles, it could benefit everyone involved. For the younger players SU would be plugging in at forward, having players actively trying to create with them in mind would certainly make offensive development a little easier. Things are a little more TBD on offense, however.

If the above makes you a bit concerned, well... it should. Syracuse hasn’t developed a ton of big man depth and doesn’t have anyone currently committed to help change that for 2021-22. A transfer could possibly help here, but as we’ve seen more in recent years, it’s not always a simple task to just plug someone into the zone. Should Dolezaj depart, it presents an opportunity for the center position to return to what it’s traditionally been in this 2-3 zone. But in doing so, it creates the problem of finding the player who would lead that shift. Not ideal.

Here’s to enjoying watching Dolezaj suit up for Syracuse — for however long that ends up being. And good luck to him on whatever he decides this offseason.