DaJuan Coleman Injury Strikes Blow To Orange Depth
SU’s interior struggles, already under close scrutiny with the team missing James Southerland, were dealt another blow Monday night when it was announced that DaJuan Coleman will have left knee surgery and miss about four weeks. In any other year, the absence of a starter in name only wouldn’t carry that big an impact, though it wouldn’t be insignificant, either. However, with Southerland already out, the Orange’s options inside are shrinking, and the team will need Jerami Grant and Baye Keita to make big leaps if it is to stay on top of the Big East.
While we don’t know who will start in Coleman’s place, it’s important to keep in mind that it probably doesn’t all that much – all you have to do is look at how SU’s freshmen bigs have been handled in recent years. On the other hand, with such a depleted depth chart, it’s tough to see anyone getting fewer than Coleman’s eight minutes per game in league play. Grant’s performance in four games since Southerland was sidelined has warranted a bigger opportunity, and he’ll have to continue to grow up in a hurry.
Since being thrust into a more prominent role, Grant has been very good, especially considering his youth. With Southerland out, Grant has averaged ten points and five rebounds in about 30 minutes per game and has committed just two turnovers in his last four games. He’s been surprisingly aggressive, which has fed his confidence, and he’s even showed some range and a willingness to simply take what the defense has given him. He’s also improved from the free throw line.
The biggest knock on him in his limited experience in a full-time role is that he’s gotten into a little bit of foul trouble, but it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s been whistled for four more fouls on the road than at home, so while he’ll have to be more careful, given SU’s dire depth problems, I don’t think it’s a problem that will be as pervasive as some might think. What I worry about more with Grant is that his size and skill set are a little too similar to C.J. Fair’s and the two don’t provide enough range to make opponents respect the perimeter threat of anyone apart from SU’s guards. Regardless, I think Grant’s increased role can be a good thing for SU in the short term, made even better when Coleman returns, and better still if Southerland is cleared to play again.
The other angle of Coleman’s absence is that it means a more prominent role for Keita, which I’m not nearly as excited about. While he’s had a few decent games, he’s entrusted with such little responsibility that it’s hard to help but get very frustrated when he can’t even do the things he’s counted on and commits touch fouls and doesn’t collect the ball, whether it’s on a pass, rebound or 50/50 chance. I’ve never pictured Keita as someone who can develop into a key offensive contributor, but it still seems galling to me that even in a pinch like the one Syracuse is in, the best rotation still involves him coming off the bench. Again, with such a thin depth chart, he’ll continue to get opportunities, but I fear he’s too much of a known quantity at this point for any rational fan to expect more than what we’ve seen to this point.
There’s also the matter of SU’s schedule to consider. The team plays eight games in the month that Coleman figures to miss. Four are at home and four are on the road. On the surface, the slate doesn’t present many teams that look much better than even a depleted Orange team, but the conference has proven to be anything but predictable and the team will still be pushed hard, especially in games at Pittsburgh and Marquette and at home against Notre Dame and Georgetown.
The Orange’s inside presence was already being tested on a regular basis. While Coleman hasn’t played up to expectations, his absence will still be felt because of the compounding effect it will have on SU’s interior. However, if he returns on schedule, the experience gained by Jerami Grant could be a huge asset for Syracuse in March, even if Southerland can’t return to action.