When Syracuse squares off against Notre Dame Monday, the Orange post players will encounter a power forward vastly superior to them.
Fighting Irish pivot man Jack Cooley is a force in the paint. Even though he's less athletic than Syracuse's stable of big men, he's far more effective.
His nose for the ball, ability to get position and finish in traffic are traits that Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita and DaJuan Coleman should try to emulate. Jim Boeheim hopes that his frontcourt can take a thing or two away from this game while they're trying to contain Cooley.
With Coleman sidelined for the next few weeks, it's going to be Christmas and Keita doing most of the work, with C.J. Fair helping out. Slowing Notre Dame's star down won't be easy, as he's scoring 15 points and snagging 11.3 rebounds per game so far in 2012-13.
Court awareness and boxing out are going to be more important than ever for Syracuse, because Cooley is the nation's best offensive rebounder. He's already gobbled up 102 offensive rebounds, and there's still a month of the season left.
When he's not busy owning the boards, Cooley is terrorizing opponents rolling to the hoop. Whether it's the pick-and-roll or weak side cuts, Cooley has terrific timing and great awareness of where he is on the floor.
Once he gets the ball deep in the paint, he can score with either hand off the glass. He's prolific at using his body to shield defenders and absorb contact.
Syracuse post players, on the other hand, don't have the soft touch off the window and aren't as coordinated after contact. They rely on small forward C.J. Fair and guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams to do the majority of the physical scoring.
Cooley is also an exceedingly effective back-to-the-basket player, using simple, quick moves. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express noted his efficiency (stats from 2011-12 season):
In addition to his proficiency finishing off cuts and pick and rolls, Cooley is one of the most effective back to the basket scorers in all of college basketball. He sees more than a third of his half-court touches in post-up situations, and scores 1.063 points per possessions on them according to Synergy Sports Technology, which ranked in the top-10 amongst collegiate players with 100+ post-touches.
Notre Dame has seen how successful it can be when their post player is clicking:
Notre Dame is 13-0 when Jack Cooley scores at least 19 points— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 2, 2013
Jim Boeheim would love to get that kind of production and success rate from one of his bigs, but that might be asking too much.
However, Christmas and Keita can collaborate and be more assertive on both ends of the floor.
In the process of trying to hold Cooley to less than 19 points, they might be able to improve their rebounding and draw some fouls of their own.
No matter what happens in Monday's showdown, competing against Cooley will provide a few lessons for the Syracuse frontcourt.
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