Orange off to 2-0 Start
Syracuse tipped off its 2018-19 campaign with victories over Eastern Washington and Morehead State last week. As opposed to last season, there is a renewed buzz around the program heading into Coach Boeheim’s 43rd season on SU Hill. The Orange return all five starters from a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in March. In addition, Syracuse brings in a class of newcomers that are ready to make an impact right away.
Our first glimpse of the Orange came Tuesday night when they took down the Eastern Washington Eagles 66-34 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone held Eastern Washington to a mere 10 points in the first half and made it tough for the Eagles to get back in the game the rest of the way. The zone held Eastern Washington to 22-percent shooting and forced the Eagles into 19 turnovers. The key reason for the hype surrounding the Orange this year was a hope that greater depth and better shooters would bolster their offensive attack this season. Syracuse shot just 38.7-percent from the field and 17.6-percent from three on opening night. The Orange were paced by Oshae Brissett’s 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in the victory.
Syracuse returned to the Carrier Dome on Saturday evening when they defeated the Morehead State Eagles 84-70 in the second game of the season. The Orange jumped out to an early 25-11 lead before Morehead State outscored them 19-11 to close the half. Clinging to a six point lead at the break, Syracuse traded baskets with the Eagles to begin the second stanza. The Orange pulled away with a 12-0 run to create a deficit that would be insurmountable for Morehead State to comeback from. Syracuse was more successful the second time out, as they connected on 41.2-percent of their attempts from the field. The Orange continued to struggle from beyond the arc as they were only 3-of-16 (18.8-percent) Saturday night. Tyus Battle led the way for Syracuse. The junior guard poured in 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, collected three rebounds, and dished out three assists in the win. East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes finished with 21 points, on 7-of-15 from the field, and eight boards. Brissett and senior center Paschal Chukwu both notched double-doubles as Brissett tallied 17 points and collected 12 rebounds, while Chukwu added 14 points and 10 boards. Coach Boeheim commented that the first two games were good learning experiences and that they gave his guys a lot to work on moving forward.
The missing ingredient at this point in the season is production from the point guard position. Frank Howard, Jalen Carey, and Howard Washington are all still recovering from injuries that have caused Battle to play out of position and Buddy Boeheim to step into a starting role in the first two games of his college career. The Orange turned the ball over 24 times in their first two games and would prefer to have their senior leader, Howard, back sooner rather than later. Carey has not adjusted to the college game yet and missed valuable practice time after spraining his ankle in the Orange vs. White scrimmage in October. Washington played seven minutes in the opener against Eastern Washington, but did not see action against Morehead State on Saturday. Washington is recovering from a torn ACL which he suffered in practice in January.
I would like to see Marek Dolezaj get more involved offensively. The do-everything Slovakian forward showed glimpses of what he can be on the offensive end with 20 points against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and 17 points versus TCU in the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. Dolezaj is arguably the best passer on the roster, but he needs to make opponents respect his shooting ability. Dolezaj has made all four of his attempts from the field so far this season, but only took one shot (a dunk) against Morehead State. He made only two three pointers last season, but made one against Eastern Washington. It is rumored that he has been working on his stroke from three and it would be a tremendous lift for the Orange if we could see that in games. Get Dolezaj the ball!
Player of the Week: Oshae Brissett
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse is sophomore forward Oshae Brissett. Brissett is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, good for the team lead in both categories. He also leads the team in steals with 2.5 thefts per contest. If Brissett is the best player on the Orange, there is no telling where the team can go this season. Although he missed a few layups Saturday night, Brissett is at his best when he takes it to the hoop. Add in a few more three pointers and Brissett will be among the class of the ACC.
Up next: UConn and Oregon/Iowa
Syracuse will face UConn in the 2K Empire Classic Thursday at Madison Square Garden Thursday at 7pm. The Orange will take on either the winner or loser of Oregon/Iowa Friday night in the championship or consolation game.
The UConn Huskies are 2-0 under first year head coach Dan Hurley. UConn is led by senior guard Jalen Adams who is averaging 18 points and 2.5 assists per game. The Huskies are looking to rebound from Kevin Ollie’s final year in Storrs where they went 14-18 overall and finished eighth in the American Athletic Conference with a record of 7-11. Last year, the Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 at MSG. If one thing for sure, Syracuse versus UConn at the Garden is always a hotly contested matchup and is one of the most electric scenes in college basketball.
Oregon enters the 2K Empire Classic with a record of 2-0 and is ranked 13th in the country. The Ducks are led by five-star freshman Bol Bol who is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per contest.
Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the Garden with a record of 2-0. The Hawkeyes are led by junior forward Tyler Cook who is averaging 14.5 points, seven boards, and three assists per game.
The Orange will head to Madison Square Garden determined to remain undefeated and bring a trophy back to the Melo Center.