When the Syracuse basketball team rolled the ball out for the start of the 2015-16 season, it looked like it could be one of the deeper teams head coach Jim Boeheim has had in recent years. Boeheim had his starting lineup and then players such as Tyler Lydon, Kaleb Joseph, Frank Howard and sometimes Chino Obokoh getting minutes off the bench.
However, now we are barely a month into the season and recent games against high-level opponents have seen Boeheim shrink his rotation to six players.
In the last three games, Boeheim has relied on the lineup consisting of Lydon, Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Roberson and Malachi Richardson. Joseph saw the floor for four minutes in each of the last two games, and nominal starter DaJuan Coleman was relegated to backup duty as well, getting 18 minutes against Texas A&M and just five against Wisconsin.
As Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated points out, Boeheim is at least aware of the problem he has:
Boeheim told me in the Bahams, "We've got issues. We only have six guys." Guess he knew what he was talking about.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) December 3, 2015
In the Orange's loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday, the lack of depth caught up with them. Syracuse looked out of sync of both ends of the floor and got absolutely demolished on the glass. The Badgers grabbed 51 rebounds to Syracuse's 25. Perhaps playing big minutes for three games in three days left the Orange's main five guys gassed.
So what does Boeheim do? If he keep the bench short again this year, it will surely catch up to his squad come February and March.
The easiest place to start is to give Coleman more run. He is, of course, coming off multiple knee surgeries that cost him the better part of two seasons, but Sal Maneen of WSYR said Coleman's lack of minutes isn't because of his health.
'Cuse big Dajuan Coleman tells me he isn't hurt/feels fine. Says it killed him not being out there vs. Wisky. He's using this as motivation— Salvatore Maneen (@SalManeenNC9) December 3, 2015
If nothing else, we know Coleman is a good rebounder. He can help the Orange on that front, and if he gets any buckets around the rim, that's a bonus.
The next logical option would be to give Joseph more minutes. The best way to do that is to have him spell Richardson so it keeps Cooney and Gbinije on the floor. That way, Boeheim can create some mismatches by having Gbinije play point guard on offense and forward on defense.
Yes, Joseph is a point guard by trade, but he has struggled to run the Orange's offense efficiently. If Boeheim moved him off the ball, it would give him opportunities to shoot open jumpers or slash to the rim. If he is able to draw in defenders, he will have the opportunity to find shooters.
Finally, theres Howard and Obokoh. Calling these two players "seldom used" is an understatement. They haven't sniffed the floor for meaningful minutes this year. If nothing else, Boeheim could at least insert one of these guys a minute or two before a media timeout to buy a starter a few extra minutes' rest. And who knows? Maybe they will make a play or two and inspire more confidence from Boeheim.
Like we said, Boeheim is aware of the problem he has. At his post-game press conference after the Wisconsin loss, he said "We're gonna have to play, you know, a couple more guys as we go forward," but even in the moment he didn't seem too thrilled with that proposition.
There isn't much time left to get this figured out. The Orange still have tough games left on the nonconference schedule. Syracuse has road games against Georgetown and St. John's as well as home tilts with Cornell, Colgate, Montana State and Texas Southern.
It will be a tough ask to all of a sudden throw the bench players to the wolves on the road against quality opponents. But if Boeheim uses the home games Syracuse is expected to win to give these guys some meaningful time, they can be ready once the ACC schedule starts.