first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments Published on December 5, 2018 at 11:17 pmcenter_img Oshae Brissett takes the jump ball before every game and usually wins. He’s the best athlete on the team. He’s the most versatile. There is no question: He’s also the best fit at center. Brissett, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, stands six inches shorter than Paschal Chukwu, who’s started each of the past 45 games at center. But Brissett has demonstrated why he should slot in at center over Chukwu for Syracuse (6-2), the tallest team in the country (6-foot-6 average). The move would free up a spot for sophomore Marek Dolezaj to start again. It’s where Dolezaj belongs, considering he started the last 17 games of 2017-18 and keyed the Orange from play-in-game-hopeful all of the way past No. 3 seed Michigan State and into the Sweet 16.Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerAdvertisementThis is placeholder textA Brissett-Dolezaj-Elijah Hughes starting three trio at the center/forward positions could strengthen the Orange’s backline and create a faster, more dynamic offense. SU head coach Jim Boeheim said Chukwu got “absolutely destroyed” against the Connecticut bigs, whose 6-foot-9 forward Eric Cobb shoved him around for 13 points and 13 boards. He’s been “ineffective,” Boeheim said, while Brissett continues to prove he’s more than capable inside. “I’m not pigeonholed to one position on this team,” Brissett said this summer. “Coach (Boeheim) really expects me to go out and do everything. If it’s handling the ball sometimes, coming off a screen, attacking the basket, rebounding, defending, anything coach wants me to do.”Tuesday night against Northeastern, freshman forward Bourama Sidibe’s first defensive position resulted in an easy basket for the Huskies. Boeheim threw up his hands. “Bourama!” he yelled. He stared him down when he returned back on defense. With Brissett waiting to replace him at the scorer’s table two possessions later, Sidibe left Northeastern center Anthony Green open inside. He dunked to cut the SU lead to three. Boeheim yelled at Bourama again. Then, on the other end, Sidibe missed a wide-open layup near the basket. Brissett, almost immediately after subbing in, grabbed a rebound where his fingers eclipsed the height of the basket. He was playing above the rim, literally. Later, not two, not three but four players converged to Brissett when he caught a pass in the paint. “Oshae was tremendous inside, rebounding,” Boeheim said Tuesday. “He gets position. He gets up quick and gets it. We’ve got to do more of that with our big guys.”No kidding. While it’s easy to dissect a lineup and point out where its inefficiencies lie, keeping the status quo and starting Chukwu could continue to hold the Orange back. Where exactly Brissett fits in this lineup seems to matter less to Syracuse’s offensive success than that he’s on the floor at all. When he came out for a breather Tuesday, Boeheim turned to his right to call him back in sooner than expected. Sidibe hadn’t gotten to the low block in time to defend a layup. Laura Angle | Digital Design EditorIn the same game, Chukwu was nudged out of the way on rebounds, left out to dry on alley-oops, and held off as bigs play back-to-basket. But you can catch Brissett on select possessions, however, turning away opponents at the rim. The jumper is there, his all-around game rich and smooth. Brick by brick, he’s building the foundation for a more polished inside game. Brissett’s emphasized finishing with both hands, and he’s up to 16 points and 8.4 boards per game, slightly higher than last season. Don’t question Brissett’s ability to hang with bigs who are a couple of inches taller or heavier. On switches, he’s shown last season and through eight games this year that he can alter shots, players and coaches said.In fairness, Chukwu is battling a nagging groin injury. He’s a capable defender, but even at 7-foot-2, he’s not assertive on either end of the floor. Chukwu plays hard and knows the 2-3 zone as well as anyone in the program, multiple players said. But his early-season slide amid a groin injury coincides with Brissett’s emergence, and there’s no better time than pre-ACC play to tweak the lineup. Boeheim rarely deviates from one starting five. But over the past two seasons, he’s made two key moves around the start of ACC play. Two seasons ago, he began starting then-freshman Tyus Battle for good beginning Dec. 27. Last season, Dolezaj became a starter Jan. 27 after Matthew Moyer went down with an injury. Dolezaj started the rest of the season.The process of a seamless lineup transition starts with defense. Much is made of players shifting a position, especially upward — point guards to wings, forwards to centers. Yet experience out of one’s natural positions can sometimes be instructive for a player’s development, assistant coach Allen Griffin said.Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerAs for Brissett, Griffin said he’s built strength since last season and developed into a much better player in the pick-and-roll — a staple of the Syracuse offense — while adding layers to his game. His latest improvement: finishing around the basket. “Last year I was looking to get fouled and go to the free-throw line,” Brissett said Tuesday. “Now I’m really emphasizing finishing first. If the foul comes, it comes.”Brissett’s skills will continue to expand. He’s making the next steps. Chukwu has 17 blocks, but what’s to say Brissett wouldn’t block just as many shots if he were in similar positions down low? It doesn’t make sense to keep starting him when there are better options, starting with Brissett.Matthew Gutierrez is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at mguti100@syr.edu or @matthewgut21.last_img