The Morning After: No Center? No Problem

C.J. Fair shoots over three Clemson defenders
CJ Fair was back to his old, stat sheet stuffing self on Sunday.

After a tough outing last Monday in which Trevor Cooney had to literally carry the Syracuse Orange to victory over Notre Dame, one had to wonder how the ‘Cuse would bounce back after six days off and dangerous, if not terrifying, Clemson squad coming to town.

Would Jim Boeheim’s team be complacent and come out flat, or would they come out angry and their lasted performance and want prove once again that they deserve their perch atop the polls?

As is often the case, it was a little of both, as the Orange beat the Tigers 57-44 on Sunday.

A Cure for a Hangover

As anyone who’s suffered the effects from a prior night’s over indulgence can attest, the best cure for a hangover is rest and time.   Syracuse’s huge win over Duke on February 1st left them barely able to eek out a W over the Fighting Irish.  Would the Tigers and do-everything forward K.J. McDaniels be able to take advantage as well?

The short answer is, “No.”

While this Syracuse team rarely starts a game off hot, they were energized from the tip.  The first bucket of the game came on a crazy backward layup attempt from Jerami Grant as he and the Orange came out in attack mode.

As is often the case with the Orange, one of the keys to the game was offensive rebounding.  That was the case against Clemson from the start with Tyler Ennis‘ first bucket being an athletic tip-in, with many others to follow from his teammates.

Allow Me to Reintroduce C.J. Fair

The biggest symptom of the hangover from the Duke game was the play of C.J. Fair against Notre Dame.  Not only did he not score the ball, be he had just an all-around terrible game.  If he continued to struggle, the guys in the purple shirts might have had a chance.  Luckily for the Orange, that didn’t happen.

Crushtastic Jammeister Fair was back to his old self, sinking mid-range jumpers, crashing the boards and otherwise doing C.J. Fair things.  For some reason, Fair’s offensive skill set really stuck out to me in this game.  Dude has so many moves, from so many spots on the floor.  Watching him abuse what’s considered one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, I don’t think there’s anyone in the league who can guard him.  If he’s able to play this well consistently down the stretch, he’s got the ACC Player of the Year award in the bag (you read it here first).

Bury My Heart at Keita’s Wounded Knee

Totally stole that line from a commenter over at TNIAAM.  Of course the real story of the game is the state of the Syracuse big men.  A few weeks after DaJuan Coleman underwent season ending knee surgery, senior center Baye Moussa Keita left Sunday’s game, also with a knee injury.  That left Rakeem Christmas as Syracuse’s only true center and he was forced to sit with four fouls with just over 13 minutes to play in the half.

Ruh-roh.

Enter Jerami Grant.  The sophomore power forward filled in admirably as the Orange went small for a stretch as Grant manned the middle of the zone.  It wasn’t a total disaster, despite the expected trouble with rebounding on the defensive end.  And, actually, I was sort of glad this happened now and not in a more critical game against a better team.  It’s a lineup I certainly hope we never see again, but having seen it, I won’t totally shit a brick if it happens either.

Of course, you have to be a bit concerned about Syracuse’s upcoming trip to the Petersen Events center to take on the Pitt Panthers.  Jaime Dixon’s squad is already bent on revenge after losing in #TylerTime to the Orange three weeks ago.  The Pete is a notoriously hostile venue and now it looks like the ‘Cuse might be down yet another big man.

So, what will Boeheim do?  Keita’s injury was offially diagnosed as a knee sprain.  Doesn’t sound too serious.  Depending on how it responds to treatment, it could be totally safe to throw a brace on it and just limit Baye’s minutes against the Panthers.  Do you even want to risk that?  In the grand scheme of things, one road loss to a very good conference opponent isn’t going to cost the Orange much more than their spot atop the polls.  Maybe you rest the senior so that he’s 100%  for the post season.

What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Leave your comments below.
Chris Daughtrey is the creator and author of Bleeding Orange. He is a contributor at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and at Atlantic Coast Confidential. You can connect with him on Twitter @OrangeBlood 44 or search #OrangeBlood.

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