Onuaku confirmed out for Friday; Orange looks to revamp zone

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 17, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img BUFFALO—Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim clarified that center Arinze Onuaku will ‘definitely’ not play tomorrow against No. 16 Vermont and is ‘doubtful’ to play if the Orange advance to the second round. Boeheim met with the media Thursday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo before to preview No. 1 Syracuse’s game against Vermont.‘Obviously he’s still very sore,’ Boeheim said. ‘He’s being treated. He has still got pain when he puts pressure on his leg. So we’ve been practicing and thinking that he would not be able to play tomorrow night. Beyond that, we still don’t know.’During the team’s open practice, Onuaku dribbled a basketball and walked around in his grey Syracuse jumpsuit. He joked around with teammates, while also sitting and watching the dunk competitions that took place at various times.  ‘It’s definitely frustrating but the positive thing is that I am getting better,’ Onuaku said. ‘I’m just hoping for the best and taking it one day at a time. Every day it feels better.’  With Onuaku missing against the Catamounts (25-9), backup forward Kris Joseph will start and starting power forward Rick Jackson will play as the center. Also, freshman DaShonte Riley is expected to see time. Boeheim said he has played with that lineup about 60 or 70 percent of the time and it is effective.Boeheim added the biggest problem with Onuaku not being available will be the team’s depth. The team usually uses a seven-man rotation, with three guards and four forwards and center. When all four big men are healthy, Boeheim can rotate players as he pleases. He won’t have that luxury with Onuaku out, and said his team will have to now change how it plays and how it can attack the game.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOne thing he’s not worried about, though, is Joseph, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, stepping into the starting lineup. ‘Our starting lineup, the difference when most teams lose a starter, they’re bringing in a guy that’s playing 15 to 20 minutes or so,’ Boeheim said. ‘We’re bringing in a guy that played 30 minutes a game. So we think our starting lineup is fine. We just don’t have the depth.’Even though Onuaku will not be able to contribute tomorrow night, his teammates believe having him on the sidelines will be motivation enough.‘His presence is going to carry us,’ Wes Johnson said. ‘Him being on the sideline and being the leader is going to help us. If we keep winning, he’ll eventually get back to playing. Other than that, him being on the sideline and around us is going to uplift us and really carry us throughout the tournament, hopefully.’Riley prepares for new roleThe wild card to Syracuse’s run at a second title may be a seven-foot freshman that played a grand total of 15 minutes in the Big East. With Onuaku’s uncertain future, the raw DaShonte Riley is suddenly thrust into the spotlight. He doesn’t need to duplicate Onuaku but Riley’s to-do list is quite different than his usual pregame warm-up. Riley will be counted on to anchor the 2-3 zone for about 10-15 minutes, alter some shots and keep the offense moving. A lot of pressure he didn’t see coming.‘I think it definitely shows a person’s character,’ he said. ‘We have a lot of tough guys on this team. I think we’ll see that. With A.O. being out, everybody has to step up their roles right now.’The training wheels to Riley’s collegiate career were taken off a month ago in Georgetown when Greg Monroe nearly willed the Hoyas to an improbable comeback. He abused the freshman in the post. Those five minutes of action in SU’s 75-71 win were a blur. So in that sense, a full week to digest his new role has helped. Unlike one month ago, when he was thrown into action against Georgetown, Riley knows he is playing. All week, Onuaku has offered advice. ‘He’s just trying to learn his role,’ Onuaku said of Riley. ‘He’s going to have to give us minutes come Friday. The biggest thing for him is to be comfortable and confident out there.’Zoned inBrandon Triche knows there are no more excuses. Fatigue is not a copout this time around. With a full week off, players better be moving, and talking and boxing out. The reason for Syracuse’s late-season skid was its lackadaisical 2-3 zone.‘We need to go back to how we used to play and not take any plays off even though the rotation may slim down a little bit,’ Triche said. ‘We had the week off. We don’t have any excuse to be tired.’In the Big East Tournament, the Orange allowed a season-high 91 points to Georgetown. The zone’s problems were widespread — from taking wrong angles to ‘watching instead of rebounding,’ Triche said. But it’s not quantum physics. Above all, the point guard knows SU’s effort must rise. ‘What’s key to the zone is being active,’ Triche said. ‘Lately, we’ve been standing still.’ To rekindle its defensive urgency, SU played a lot of man-to-man defense at practice this past week, players said. Getting gashed by Georgetown was enough proof that the Orange needed a team-wide attitude adjustment on defense. Of course, Boeheim won’t flirt with man defense in an actual game. That’d be sacrilegious. But he realized Syracuse needed a jolt. The message didn’t fall on deaf ears.‘Just to get more competitive,’ Johnson said. ‘That’s what we were lacking.’ Too often, Syracuse cheated on defense in its last two losses to Louisville and Georgetown. The focus was on offense, not defense. Sloppiness was contagious as SU tried shooting itself out of deficits.   To go the distance, Triche realizes that Syracuse needs a renewed commitment on defense.  ‘We’ve been trying to make the big play on offense instead of defense,’ Triche said. ‘So now we’re focused on making the big defensive play that got us where we are right now.’Bitter — or sweet — memories      Of course it got asked. 2005. No. 13 Vermont upsetting No. 4 Syracuse. Arguably the biggest win in the history of Vermont basketball, and one of the most disappointing losses in the NCAA Tournament for the Orange.     Five years later, though, the game is still fresh in each team’s minds, and could be motivation in Friday’s game.      For Syracuse senior Andy Rautins, who was a senior at Jameville-Dewitt when it occurred, it brings back bad memories and is reminder not to take any team lightly.     ‘I certainly recall watching the game, being a hometown kid,’ Rautins said. ‘I think all of Syracuse was destroyed by that game. So this is definitely a little bit—serve as a little bit of motivation for us, try to redeem ourselves a little bit, not have any letdowns.’     For Vermont  senior Marqus Blakely, it’s a landmark for the program and he said it could serve as inspiration heading into tomorrow’s matchup.      ‘No one really could forget that game,’ Blakely said. ‘When you get recruited by Vermont, that’s the first thing that sticks in your mind. I mean, they just played a hell of a game. And no one really thought that they were going to be able to stay in it. I mean, a lot of people are counting us out tomorrow. So anything can happen on any given night.’  mrehalt@syr.eduthdunne@syr.edulast_img