Syracuse basketball, with limited center options, has major interior issues

Syracuse basketball head coach Jim Boeheim didn’t provide much optimism in his UNC post-game presser.

Give Syracuse basketball credit for coming back on Tuesday evening versus North Carolina on multiple occasions.

The Tar Heels, with their bruisers in the paint, absolutely torched the Orange on the boards and built up double-digit leads against the ‘Cuse more than once.

Yet Syracuse basketball, despite its huge disadvantage on the glass and in second-chance points, didn’t wither away. The Orange even had a one-point edge with under four minutes remaining in the second half. ‘Cuse fans, for a brief glimpse of time, thought that their team would knock off this blue-blood program on the road.

However, UNC made some timely plays down the stretch, Syracuse basketball players couldn’t connect on some open looks from the field, and the Tar Heels recorded an Atlantic Coast Conference triumph, 81-75.

It was no secret arriving at this league clash that North Carolina would likely dominate in the rebounding department, and that prognostication held true.

Per ESPN statistics, the Tar Heels (8-4, 3-2) were plus-17 overall on the boards, plus-14 in offensive rebounds, and UNC registered more offensive boards than the Orange had defensive rebounds, which isn’t good at all.

Sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier was terrific and certainly did his part, collecting a double-double of 23 points and 11 boards. Guerrier also had five blocks, one assist and one steal.

Senior power forward/center Marek Dolezaj, though, picked up two early fouls in this contest and couldn’t get going. He only had one rebound and took just three shots in 35 minutes of action.

After the ‘Cuse loss, which dropped the team to 5-14 all-time against North Carolina, head coach Jim Boeheim said in a Zoom call with media members that Dolezaj has to be more assertive in looking to score.

Boeheim also acknowledged that the Orange “got beat up in the paint,” and the outlook for Syracuse basketball in the interior doesn’t appear all that awesome looking ahead.

Prior to the UNC affair, Boeheim and a team spokesman both said that the availability of senior center Bourama Sidibe would be a game-time decision.

But in Boeheim’s virtual call following the ACC encounter, he said that Sidibe, who injured his knee in the 2020-21 season-opener versus Bryant, “cannot play.”

Additionally, Boeheim said that freshman center Frank Anselem is out at least another two weeks. Redshirt freshman center John Bol Ajak, per Boeheim, is “too small. He can’t get it done out there.”

So at the center position for the ‘Cuse, that leaves Dolezaj, who is so good but gives up a lot of weight to opposing big men, and sophomore Jesse Edwards.

Edwards, who I think has a lot of upside, got seven minutes of run versus the Tar Heels, but he didn’t have any rebounds. Boeheim said that Edwards “just didn’t compete on the boards.”

Boeheim added that, for now, Edwards is the only alternative to Dolezaj at the center spot. Boeheim said of Edwards, “We’re hoping that he can give us some minutes in there.”

This is a really concerning thing for Syracuse basketball. Physical teams such as North Carolina, Pittsburgh and others in the ACC are going to pound on the Orange in the paint, and that’s a problem, particularly when the ‘Cuse is struggling to make shots from beyond the arc.

Speaking of the Panthers, Syracuse basketball is scheduled to travel to Pitt this Saturday, Jan. 16, for a conference bout that begins at 12 pm.