Marek Dolezaj provides limited Syracuse team new options in small-ball lineup

first_img Published on February 4, 2018 at 7:52 pm Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer Earlier this season, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim sounded excited about the Orange’s size on defense. With 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu and the athletic 6-foot-10 Bourama Sidibe, Boeheim said his defense had the rim protectors it was missing a year ago.And for much of nonconference play, he was right. Chukwu averaged 3.2 blocks per game in that span while Sidibe had three multi-block games.Things have been vastly different in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Other than an unexpected breakout against Pittsburgh on Jan. 27, Sidibe has been mostly a nonfactor as he remains limited with knee tendinitis. Chukwu excelled in heavy minutes early in league play but has racked up just four points and 13 rebounds over his last three games.“I can’t explain what’s happening to him,” Boeheim said after the home loss to Virginia. “… Tonight, he could have played 50 minutes and would not have scored a basket.”With Sidibe unable to go in the most recent Virginia game, Syracuse had to make an unfamiliar adjustment: playing Marek Dolezaj at center.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAt 6-foot-9, 180-pounds, Dolezaj doesn’t provide the same interior presence as the centers. But he’s arguably Syracuse’s (15-8, 4-6 Atlantic Coast) most active big man on defense and can step out better than other bigs to defend the high post. He spaces the floor on offense and has been more aggressive of late, with two of his five highest-scoring games coming in the last four games. That small-ball lineup will be key against Louisville (16-7, 6-4) on Monday night, especially with Sidibe potentially unavailable again off the quick turnaround.“Marek’s really the only guy I thought that was moving and was pretty good out there tonight,” Boeheim added. “We’ve got too many guys that are playing minutes that are not productive. And if we play 18, 19, 20 minutes, and you can’t get a shot up, then we’ve got to figure out something else.”Kevin Camelo | Digital Design EditorDolezaj’s game is predicated on doing small things that don’t show up in the box score, like diving for a loose ball or rotating over on defense to take away a look. He did that several times as a forward in the zone on Saturday, getting out in the face of UVA sharpshooter Kyle Guy while helping to hold UVA to 30 percent from deep.With Chukwu in, though, UVA abused the high post. De’Andre Hunter scored 11 first-half points, either pulling up from midrange if Chukwu stayed back, or blowing right by him if he tried to step up.So the switch was made to bring Dolezaj in. Dolezaj immediately marked Hunter and kept him from getting to the bucket, limiting him to just one field goal attempt in the second half.“I feel like he’s a lot better defender when that guy will catch the ball in the middle,” forward Oshae Brissett said. “And he did a great job stopping him.”Still, there were holes that opened up when Dolezaj swapped positions. Three times in the second half, and twice in a row, Hunter got the ball in the high post and was immediately greeted by Dolezaj. Hunter then found a cutting Mamadi Diakite from the right side and fed him the ball.Each time, Diakite slammed the ball eye-level with the basket. After the third one, Diakite shrugged as he ran down the court, seemingly shocked at how open he was repeatedly getting.On offense, Dolezaj started off the season as a pass-first player from the high post. But with opponents sagging off him, he’s had to become more of a threat and become more aggressive.“It’s a work in progress,” assistant coach Adrian Autry said. “He’s starting to understand it. And I hope that he can continue to build on this game. We need production in other spots. He gave us nine points against the best defensive team in the country.”Syracuse’s first bucket against UVA was Dolezaj confidently stepping into a 15-footer. To start the second half, he fed the ball to Chukwu in the post. When Chukwu was doubled, Dolezaj aggressively cut toward the middle, got the feed and slammed home the dunk.There still needs to be more consistency on that end — Dolezaj air-balled a 10-footer off a pick-and-roll in the same game. Still, his ability to stretch the floor opens up driving lanes for Syracuse’s penetration-heavy offense.“He can make a lot of plays from that position,” point guard Frank Howard said. “His shot is getting there, he’s getting more confident with it. He hit that baby jumper. I think Marek played great tonight.”Dolezaj said he’s comfortable with playing the five from the few times SU used the set in non-conference play. Still, he said it was a bit tougher against a more physical Virginia team, and it’ll only get tougher as ACC play progresses.The Orange’s Slovakian forward has made strides this year in improving his offense and his activity. With Syracuse likely down to six available players, he’ll have to do it from a new position.“I’m trying to be aggressive to the basket,” Dolezaj said. “I must do it every day. I think I can do it every game and I must keep working.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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