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Riley Transfer Loosens Frontcourt Depth Chart

In a move that shouldn’t shock anyone, DaShonte Riley will follow Rob Murphy to Eastern Michigan. It isn’t uncommon for a player to follow an assistant coach to a new gig, and generally, it’s even more expected when that player struggles to find playing time with his original school. Additionally, it’s been reported that there are some health problems with Riley’s family and that while he originally wanted to transfer at the beginning of last semester, there was an obligation to finish up the school year academically before leaving Syracuse.

While the prospect of having a legitimate seven-footer in the back of the zone was refreshing, there wasn’t much else about DaShonte Riley to get excited over. We’re left with the memory of him making a handful of garbage time appearances and being called on way too early into his career as a reserve in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. He came to Syracuse with some tools to his game, but he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase them due to being buried on the depth chart as well as a foot injury that caused him to miss all of last season. There was a chance for him to crack the rotation in 2011-12, but the competition of Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita and Rakeem Christmas meant that there were no guarantees. It’s unfortunate that we won’t get to see Riley reach his potential at Syracuse, whatever it may be, but it’s also a challenge to project where he may have fit. I can’t fault his decision one bit, even aside from the family concerns. With a traditionally short rotation as Boeheim prefers, some attrition is to be expected. Rather than face a battle for playing time at a school without the presence of his lead recruiter, Riley will follow that mentor closer to home where he has a chance to be the face of the team.

Riley’s departure won’t drastically impact the construction of next season’s depth chart at Syracuse, pending the outcome of Fab Melo’s legal case, but it does cause us to take a look at how those roles will be changed. The top three still goes Melo-Keita-Christmas, but Riley’s absence from the roster has the residual effect of nudging Christmas towards a more meaningful role this coming season. Big men historically take a long time to adjust to the faster pace and more advanced competition of major-conference college basketball, but if a player is to develop, he has to be given opportunities until he proves he isn’t fit for the job. In that respect, Wednesday’s news could be a blessing to Christmas’ prospects both in the short term as well as down the line. He’ll still have his bumps in the road as a freshman, but he would still have those struggles if he had to share time with Riley. Without him as a cog in the rotation, there should be an extended window for Christmas’ development to be expedited. Jim Boeheim may not have that same patience, but he won’t have many alternatives (though maybe he’ll indulge my previous Scoop-Triche-Joseph-Fair-Center lineup). To compound things, if Melo’s case with SU’s judicial board ends with him packing his bags, there will be serious minutes in store for Keita and Christmas. That thought doesn’t exactly instill confidence when it comes to offense from the frontcourt, of course, but it’s hard to say for certain what may happen until the various judicial bodies have their say.

It could definitely be a lean year, but one positive to take away from Riley’s transfer is that it frees up a scholarship that could be used on any of a number of players in the high school class of 2012 or beyond. With production from the frontcourt very much up in the air, there shouldn’t be a stone that’s left unturned until the current players prove otherwise. While I’d love for them to make such a statement, it’s also important to stay realistic.

The transfer of DaShonte Riley is of benefit for all parties involved. Riley gets to play closer to home for a coach with whom he has a very good relationship, Rob Murphy gets a Big East transfer help his efforts at Eastern Michigan, and with more playing time available to Rakeem Christmas, the Syracuse staff can hasten the development of a big-time defensive stopper in the making. In the short term, Christmas and Keita will be thrust into more important roles for next season. While that won’t catapult Syracuse into any discussions when it comes to deciding the best frontcourt in the Big East, it allows the program to focus on developing those players who will be most important to the team’s future.

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