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Is Jesse Edwards college basketball’s most underrated center?

Senior center Jesse Edwards has been the star of the Orange, but is he underrated nationally?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 10 Georgetown at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In what was billed as the year of the big man in college basketball, there was hardly mention of the best player on the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team coming into the 2022-23 season. With the NBA center position becoming more skilled and college athletes now able to capitalize on name, image and likeness, it’s no surprise many centers returned to college basketball to form an experienced core of big men throughout the sport.

Some of the most recognized bigs in this space are Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky, Drew Timme of Gonzaga, Armando Bacot of North Carolina, Hunter Dickinson of Michigan, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, Zach Edey of Purdue, Adama Sanogo of UConn, Ryan Kalkbrenner of Creighton and Colin Castleton of Florida and Arizona’s breakout star Oumar Ballo. But should Syracuse center Edwards belong in that group?

Edwards wasn’t nominated for the preseason Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award like the aforementioned bigs, but he’s done more than keep pace with some of the top centers in the country.

Edwards leads the ACC in rebounding with 11.2 per game and he’s fifth in the country in that category. He leads the ACC in blocks with 3.2 per game and he’s third in the country. Edwards shoots 65.2% from the floor, which, you guessed it, leads the ACC. He’s tenth in the country in shooting percentage. He also averages a double-double and hasn’t grabbed below seven rebounds in a game this season.

Of course, Edwards has been given his due locally. But nationally he’s glossed over.

Georgetown v Syracuse
Jesse Edwards takes media questions following the Syracuse-Georgetown game on Dec. 10.
Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

To be sure, it stands to reason why Syracuse hasn’t been nationally relevant. With the Orange holding an 8-5 record and just 2-3 against major conference teams, it makes sense why Edwards is flying under the radar. Of course, the top bigs—with the exception of Florida and Creighton currently—are on nationally relevant teams.

Other than the Empire Classic and ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Syracuse hasn’t played in the national spotlight during the non-conference portion of its schedule. Still, Edwards has done more than keep pace with some of the sports top bigs.

Stats of college basketball’s top centers coded in heat map

Edwards hasn’t scored the ball as much as the other top centers, perhaps representative of a program that typically runs its offense through ball-dominant guards and likes to score through the wings. No, Edwards isn’t quite the experienced low-post threat like Timme or Bacot, but he’s commanding double-teams when receiving low-post touches on a team that doesn’t have the offensive firepower it prefers from the forward position.

Stats of varying degrees of importance can be debated, but Edwards has proven his value as a rebounder and on the defensive end. He’s outrebounded only by Edey and Tshiebwe among the nation’s top centers. Nobody among this group is blocking more shots than Edwards and perhaps no player is more valuable to their defense than the 6-foot-11 big from Amsterdam.

There are other underrated big men in the sport, such as Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi and St. John’s Joel Soriano. But at the very least, Edwards is deserving of a mention with some of the top big men in college basketball.