Well, now that we’ve had time to debrief and our minds are calm and collected - at least that’s what we tell ourselves - let’s take a deeper look at production from the Syracuse Orange freshmen this season.
Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson came into the season with the idea that they would be impact players from the start and they were not wrong. Battle and Thompson played in 30.7 and 17.9 minutes per game respectively this season -- a combined 48.6 minutes from the two “new guys”.
On a team with veterans in Tyler Lydon, John Gillon, and Andrew White III, the two freshmen had to earn their shots, but they did just that. Battle and Thompson both became needed offensive weapons for Syracuse, ending up as top five scorers for the Orange.
A season average isn’t the end-all-be-all, however, so let’s look at some of the “senior-like” performances these freshmen had this year. Why not start with the game of the year, against the Duke Blue Devils?
Tyus Battle played like a man possessed that Wednesday evening, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half. He played a needed sidekick role to Gillon, but down the stretch coach Jim Boeheim seemed to have no worries isolating his inexperienced guard.
Battle returns next season as the primary scorer as his 11.3 points per game is the highest of the returning men in orange. It was a year of ups and downs, but a freshman isn’t supposed to get it right away. The speed of the game changes from high school to college, so one year under his belt should do wonders for the Edison, N.J. product next year.
Battle wasn’t the primary ball handler this year, but his ability to make plays off the ball helped him contribute in his own way. When he found the ball, Battle used his quick first step to create space for himself, allowing easier shots for not only himself, but his teammates too.
The starting backcourt will likely consist of Frank Howard and Battle next season, so look for plenty more scoring opportunities for Battle as this becomes his team to lead through the treacherous ACC.
So, we’ve taken a look at what Battle showed us this season, now let’s look at the raw, but super-talented forward, Taurean Thompson. Thompson had to earn his way into the starting lineup, having to wait till 14th game of the season for Boeheim to implement him into the first unit.
The Orange were struggling and lacking much offense in their losses, so adding Thompson in the starting lineup seemed like a no-brainer with his diverse offensive skillset. Syracuse lost that game to Boston College, but there was one thing for sure: Taurean Thompson can score the basketball.
He finished with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and from there on out, there was one thing that was certain for Boeheim: Taurean needed to play. His craftiness around the rim was undeniable, but his ability to stretch the floor is what made his impact even more significant.
Thompson ended up starting 21 of the 34 games Syracuse had this season, and if there’s one thing we learned about him was that he had a glaring weakness: defense. Thompson looked lost at times on defense as the 2-3 zone didn’t click right away for the big man.
Similar to Battle’s inconsistency, Thompson showed some improvement through the year on the defensive side of the ball, but he couldn’t completely figure it out. A full season and a “real” offseason will hopefully teach Thompson the ins-and-outs of Boeheim’s defense, allowing the Hall of Fame coach to feel comfortable leaving his sophomore big man on the floor in close games.
It’s no longer a request for Thompson to improve his defense—it’s a must. Thompson will be the primary big-man with Lydon heading for the NBA, so it’s time for Thompson to not only make a name for himself on the scoring end - he averaged 9.2 points per game - but prioritize stopping the opponent from scoring inside his zone.
Boeheim praised his young big man prior to the start of the year stating how his size and shooting ability could bring a lot to the table. With one year under his belt, Boeheim will be looking for a new “veteran” big-man in the paint.
Lessons were learned for these two freshmen as they were thrown into the fire right away. This will be their team next year, so all the lessons Battle and Thompson learned this season will need to show or else Syracuse may see similar struggles that forced them to miss the tournament.