Off-season Recap and looking ahead to the 2018-19 Season
After Syracuse fell to Duke 69-65 in the Sweet Sixteen to close out their 2017-18 campaign, many questions surrounded the program. Top recruit Darius Bazley elected to decommit from the Orange and enter the D-League after high school—the first recruit to ever do so. Oshae Brissett, who had a stellar freshman season, made it clear early on that he would be returning for his sophomore season. Questions also swirled regarding whether or not Tyus Battle, the team’s leading scorer, would return to Syracuse for his junior season. Battle decided on Wednesday he would return to the SU Hill for his junior year to refine his game and be better prepared for the NBA in the future.
Matthew Moyer, who started 20 games in his redshirt freshman season before suffering an ankle injury against Boston College transferred to Vanderbilt, leaving the Orange, already without Bazley with just two forwards on its roster (Brissett and rising sophomore Marek Dolezaj) before Syracuse received a commitment from Robert Braswell a 6’9” forward from Blythewood, SC. Braswell joined the 2018 class which despite losing Bazley, includes 4-star guard Jalen Carey and 3-star guard, Coach Boeheim’s son, Buddy Boeheim.
Battle’s return solidified the Orange roster that will return all five starters from a team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Let’s take a look at each piece to the puzzle for the 2018-19 season.
Tyus Battle, Guard
Tyus Battle led the 2017-18 Syracuse squad in scoring at 19.2 points per game and was one of the most relied upon players in the country last season. Battle logged 39 minutes per game and played 96.2% of Syracuse’s minutes. Many may be surprised to see Battle returning because more than likely he won’t need to be used as much as he was last year during the 2018-19 season. To improve his own game and help the Orange improve as a unit, Battle must improve his efficiency next season. During his sophomore year, he shot 39.9% from the floor and 32.2% from three. If Battle can improve his shooting percentages and become more of a facilitator, he could become one of the best guards in the country next season.
Frank Howard, Guard
Frank Howard finished as the second most improved player in the ACC last year to North Carolina’s Luke Maye, according to the league’s coaches. Howard took command of the starting point guard position, a job he relinquished to John Gillon III in the 2016-17 season, and increased his scoring production by more than five points per contest between his sophomore and junior seasons. Howard’s ability improve as a facilitator and run the offense without turning the ball over will continue to determine how successful Syracuse will be next season. Like his backcourt-mate Battle, Howard will need to improve his shooting percentages if Syracuse wants to build off their run to the Sweet Sixteen. He shot just 37.6% from the field and 32.7% from deep last season.
Oshae Brissett, Forward
Oshae Brissett bursted onto the scene as a freshman averaging 14.9 points and a team best 8.8 rebounds per game. Brissett earned a spot on the ACC All-Rookie team and his performance in the NCAA Tournament has Orange Nation excited about what he can do in his sophomore season. Brissett’s ability to get to the basket, draw fouls, and step out and hit the three makes him a match-up nightmare for most teams. If Brissett can improve his stroke from beyond the arc, not only will Syracuse be a formidable foe in the ACC, but the forward can improve his stock for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Marek Dolezaj, Forward
Marek Dolezaj was the best surprise of the 2017-18 season for the Orange. Dolezaj, who sent in a video to the Syracuse staff last spring, was a late addition to the roster. Dolezaj stepped into the starting line-up after Moyer suffered a sprained ankle against Boston College and never gave up his spot in the starting five after that. The Slovakian became a crowd favorite for his basketball IQ and relentless motor on the glass. Dolezaj may be the best passer on the team, but Syracuse will benefit if he gets more aggressive and looks for his own shot more this upcoming season. Similar to Tyler Lydon and other Orange bigs in the past, Dolezaj will need to get stronger to be more of a post presence in the ACC. He showed flashes of his potential in the mid-range with 20 points against Wake Forest in the First Round and 17 points in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament against TCU. Dolezaj could be even more of a threat in Syracuse’s offensive attack if he can develop a three point shot this offseason.
Paschal Chukwu, Center
Paschal Chukwu returned to the court last season after only playing six games in the 2016-17 campaign due to a torn retina in his right eye. Chukwu, who stands 7’2” and is the tallest player in school history, was a defensive force in the middle of the 2-3 zone. The big man blocked 2.7 shots per game, ranking 13th in the nation. Chukwu will need to get stronger in order to be more of a physical presence in the post during conference play. Offensively, he needs to improve this offseason. Chukwu showed flashes of what he can be on the offensive end in the Sweet Sixteen loss to Duke as he was strong with the ball, caught lobs and finished at the rim against Duke’s zone. Don’t expect him to be an elite back to the basket scorer, but if he can be stronger and more comfortable at the rim, combined with his improved free throw shooting, the Orange could have an inside threat this year.
Bourama Sidibe, Center
Bourama Sidibe battled through tendinitis in his left knee throughout the entirety of his freshman season. Sidibe showed flashes of what he can be when healthy as he scored 18 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, and recorded three blocks in at win at Pittsburgh. He underwent surgery to repair the knee on March 30, and his recovery is ahead of schedule. The rising sophomore is already lifting weights and participating in shooting drills and should be cleared to play before the summer is over. A better offensive player than Chukwu, Sidibe’s health and continued development could give Syracuse a one-two punch at the center positon that they lacked a year ago.
Howard Washington, Guard
Howard Washington tore his ACL in practice on January 18, bringing his freshman season to an end. Washington struggled in limited playing time his freshman season, but showed his basketball IQ and ability to run the offense when he came in to spell Frank Howard before his injury. Although he may not be fully recovered by the time the 2018-19 season tips off, there will be a spot in the rotation upon his return next season.
Elijah Hughes, Guard
Elijah Hughes is a redshirt sophomore who sat out the 2017-18 season after transferring from East Carolina where he averaged 7.8 points per game and started seven games his freshman season. He is expected to see time as a back-up guard this season and will look to provide more consistent three-point shooting to the Orange’s offensive arsenal this season.
Jalen Carey, Guard
With Darius Bazley’s decision to enter the G-League Jalen Carey becomes the most touted recruit in Coach Boeheim’s 2018 recruiting class. A 6’3” guard from New York City, who attended high school at Immaculate Conception in Montclair, NJ, will see minutes at both guard positons this season. Carey can get to the rim and shoot the three. Many scouts referred to Carey as the best scorer in New Jersey this past season. He will have a chance to make an immediate impact for Syracuse.
Buddy Boeheim, Guard
Coach Boeheim’s youngest son Buddy will join the Orange roster this season. The 6’5” combo guard will likely see time on the wing his freshman year due to the lack of depth at the forward position. Buddy averaged 26.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in his junior season at Jamesville-DeWitt High School before transferring to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH to play against other DI recruits his senior year. He will be a threat from distance immediately and will look to open the driving lanes for the other Syracuse guards.
Robert Braswell, Forward
The final commit to Syracuse’s 2018 recruiting class is Robert Braswell, a 6’9” forward from Blythewood, SC, who was extended an offer after Bazley entered the G-League. Braswell is described as a long, lanky athletic forward, who went through a late growth spurt and because of that grew up playing guard and his handles reflect that. Although his commitment is seen as a better addition to the roster in the long-term, rather than the short-term, Braswell may see time if an opportunity presents itself as the current Orange roster only features four other big men.
Syracuse’s exciting run to the Sweet Sixteen combined with Tyus Battle’s decision to return to the SU Hill has some drinking the “Orange Juice,” as ESPN projected them as #16 in their latest preseason poll. I do believe that with all five starters returning, Syracuse should expect to be a Tournament team next year. The familiarity of the 2-3 zone to ACC opponents, the shooting struggles, and Boeheim’s tendency to trim the bench may not lend to as drastic of a shot up the rankings as some are projecting. A reasonable expectation would be for the team to finish in the Top 25 and end up as a five or six seed with a chance at another run deep into the NCAA Tournament. With that being said, it’s good to finally hear some good news in the offseason regarding Syracuse basketball. How many more days till November 6?