It’s no secret that Jim Boeheim has always preferred a shorter bench, even for those teams of his with depth to spare.
Now he has no other choice.
Syracuse is down to seven scholarship players as of Monday, when the school announced freshman center DaJuan Coleman will have surgery on his left knee. The sparingly used starter is expected to miss four weeks.
A wide-bodied, 6-foot-9 pivot, Coleman injured the knee in practice before Syracuse’s loss at Villanova on Saturday. Coleman started the game, which spilled into overtime, but only logged seven minutes. Two Orange frontcourt players, Baye Keita and Jerami Grant, had fouled out late in the contest, but Boeheim opted to go small instead of reinserting the hobbled Coleman.
The injury news comes at an inauspicious time for Syracuse, which only has nine scholarship players on this year’s roster at full strength. SU is already without one key reserve from that group of nine—senior sniper James Southerland—due to an ongoing academic issue. A source told Busting Brackets earlier this month the school does expect Southerland back at some point this season.
Coleman’s statistical contributions won’t be missed—he was raw and unproductive offensively, foul prone and a liability defensively—but his minutes most certainly will be. With Coleman out of the equation for the foreseeable future, the Orange will need to finagle 200 minutes out of seven guys (an average of about 29 minutes per player).
Rakeem Christmas, a hybrid of a center and power forward, is capable of splitting his court time in the middle of the zone and in his usual corner spot at the base of it. Baye Keita, Syracuse’s quasi starting center judging by minutes played, is conditioned to take on an expanded role. Still, Keita is not a starter by trade, which means the versatility of Christmas and improved play of freshman forward Jerami Grant will both be critical while Coleman is out.
Boeheim can always elect to go small, as he did against Villanova, in the event of an emergency. But injury or foul trouble of any kind from here on out could realistically necessitate the use of walk-ons—not quite what a Top 10 team has in mind rolling into February.
In an odd twist of two interwoven stories, the best short-term tonic for DaJuan Coleman’s absence may just be the speedy return of James Southerland.