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Syracuse men’s basketball’s rebounding struggles coincide with loss of personnel, physical opponents

Where’s Marek Dolezaj when you need him?

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how you slice it, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has struggled to rebound the ball lately. Syracuse has been out-rebounded by double-digits in each of its last four games. The Orange won’t get a reprieve on the glass Tuesday night as it welcomes the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels to the JMA Wireless Dome — the top rebounding team in the league.

North Carolina ranks seventh in the country in rebounds per game with 41.4. The Tar Heels are tops in the ACC in rebounding margin at +6.71. Syracuse is last at -3.71.

With the 7-foot-4 Naheem McLeod sidelined for the season with a right foot injury, Syracuse is missing a large paint presence. McLeod averaged 4.3 rebounds per game but only played 14.4 minutes. That’s 12 rebounds per 40 minutes. The Orange lost another important rebounder when Benny Williams was dismissed from the team, which will force Syracuse to play small at both the center and the four spot the rest of the way.

Maliq Brown leads this team in rebounding with 6.8 per contest. The next two rebounders are both 6-foot-6 guards in Quadir Copeland and Justin Taylor — the latter of which is being asked to play out of position at the four. With that in mind, Syracuse might need to alter its rebounding approach going forward.

“We’ve got to gang rebound,” Adrian Autry said. “We can’t just leave it on Maliq or Quadir.”

Syracuse’s rebounding woes have coincided with playing tough, physical teams, Autry says. That’s been a challenge for a thin Syracuse squad. Boston College out-rebounded Syracuse by 10, Wake Forest by 13, Louisville by 19 and Clemson by 17. Wake Forest out-toughed the Orange on both ends of the court. Against Louisville, Syracuse went mostly to 2-3 zone against a poor shooting team but that didn’t seem to help matters, especially the rebounding. And Clemson had its way on the glass against Syracuse with two of the toughest bigs in the league in PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin.

Despite the rebound deficit to Clemson, Syracuse hung with the Tigers on the glass in the second half. Perhaps a middling halfcourt offense in the first half — and subsequent missed shots — didn’t help rebounding matters.

“I thought the first half our shot selection wasn’t great,” Autry expressed. “The second half we battled better because I thought we took better shots. That has to factor in, we gotta do some stuff better offensively.”

Autry thinks Starling did a good job of rebounding against Clemson but wants to get his guards more active rebounding the ball.

To Syracuse’s credit, the Orange have done a great job of turning teams over and taking care of the basketball during the most recent stretch of play. Over its last four games Syracuse is +34 in turnover margin. At times, Syracuse has struggled to manufacture opponent miscues into points on the other end.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good job of capitalizing on our turnovers like we were in the beginning of the year,” Autry said.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Sophomore center Peter Carey missed Syracuse’s most recent game against Clemson after suffering an injury in practice the previous day. With his status uncertain for the North Carolina game, the health of the center position has taken another hit. If Carey does continue to miss time it’ll represent an opportunity for Mounir Hima. The 6-foot-11 center thinks the rebounding is an area he can help with.

“It’s just something we need to be stronger with. I think we just have to get better as a team and value it (rebounding) on that side,” Hima said.

Whether the rebounding comes from the center spot or elsewhere, Syracuse will have to focus on rebounding as a collective. Chris Bell has rebounded better of late but averages just 2.0 rebounds per game. Judah Mintz and Starling each grab over three rebounds per game. The guards may have to get more involved.

“It really comes down to all five guys battling,” Autry stated. “We gotta get our guards down there rebounding.”