Staying true to theme from yesterday’s post, the TNIAAM staff got together to discuss the baseline expectation for next year’s Syracuse Orange basketball team, viz., what can we generally expect from the 2017-2018 team?
As we know, Syracuse is coming off a disappointing year in which the Orange came back from the dead to standing on the precipice of an NCAA Tournament bid, only to fall one spot short of the field. As we also know, Syracuse lost in the second round of the NIT to Ole Miss.
Since that loss Syracuse has suffered a great deal of turnover. We knew the Orange would lose four seniors in Andrew White, John Gillon, Tyler Roberson and Dajuan Coleman. We read the tea leaves and all but prognosticated Tyler Lydon departing for the NBA. But we were blindsided when Mike Hopkins decided to hop ship (punintended) for the Washington job.
That’s more turnover than a freshman Scoop Jardine. So what can expect as we venture into next season?
Next year is sure to be one that could shock everyone. We thought we had this year’s team figured out, but as we learned, this team wasn’t Final Four bound — they weren’t even tournament bound. Key contributors in Tyler Lydon, Andrew White III, and John Gillon are no longer with us, so coach Jim Boeheim will be looking at Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson to pick up the slack. The two freshmen proved they have the potential to contribute this year, but they will no longer be role players next year — this is their team now.
Defenses are going to start focusing on Battle and Thompson, because limiting them will force next year’s role payers to have to step up and make big shots. Frank Howard is going to need to have a life changing summer for the Syracuse Orange to survive having their two “stars” scouted hard; Howard struggled this year, but Boeheim has said that he expects Howard to improve this off season to a point where he feels comfortable giving him the keys to the offense. Keeping the floor balanced will be tough without White and Gillon this year, but if Matthew Moyer can step in off his red shirt season and contribute right away then the Orange will be okay making the extra pass towards their perimeter wings.
The zone saw some inconsistency this season due to the fact that Boeheim was starting four “rookies” by the end of the season. Lydon was the only one familiar with the legendary 2-3 zone, so at times the Orange hurt themselves when they needed to get a stop down the stretch. Howard, Battle, and Thompson now have experience playing the zone, but if they don’t improve this off season they’ll be right back where they started — giving up open threes and easy looks in the paint. This might be a season where more man-to-man comes into play with even more young pieces coming in, but don’t expect Boeheim to change his entire philosophy — this is still Jim Boeheim we’re talking about—he’ll be running the 2-3 zone.
This is going to be an interesting year due to the uncertainty it presents. If the freshmen figure out the system quickly, and the returners show lots of improvement, it could be an extremely fun one. But then there’s the other side; if the freshmen start slow and Battle and Thompson seem smaller than the moment, then next season could end the same way this one did: another NIT birth. But that’s not going to happen; this isn’t a final four team, but it’s a team that can make a run if peaking at the right time. This is going to be a round of 32 team that gives the Syracuse natives something to cheer about all year long.
This is the toughest part of determining what the "baseline" expectations are: The NCAA Tournament should be the bare minimum for the program, year in and year out. Now, one could argue that this year's results done a different way would have gotten the job done, but ultimately, being a part of the 68 team field is what matters most.
Best case scenario is an offseason where Battle and Thompson take their games to the next level and are NBA draft radar caliber players, Moyer is in elite shape and uses early season games to be ready for the ACC while Howard and Chukwu become ACC Level serviceable starters. That should be a recipe for 20-23 wins.
Worst case? Battle and Thompson plateau with no true point guard to feed them, Chukwu is only slightly better than he showed this year and the incoming class is clearly over-matched by D1 level opponents, leading to a season much like this one, minus the competitiveness against quality opposition.
NCAA Tournament bid: Temper your expectations, because next season is going to be a struggle. We need to be realistic here, on paper, next year’s team is considerably less talented than this past season’s. Tyler Lydon is gone, Frank Howard is currently the only scholarship upperclassman and the only two recruits coming in are three-star prospects. However, the reason why I still believe an NCAA Tournament bid should be a baseline expectation is the fact that the Orange will have more consistency than this past season – as Howard, Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson and Paschal Chukwu are all returning and are expected starters. Making the NCAA Tournament should be a baseline expectation for next year, just don’t expect the Orange to go much further.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we should expect too much from Syracuse basketball next year. Think about it — as of right now, SU has eight scholarship players, three of which are true freshmen, one is a redshirt freshman and one is a center that is coming off of a torn retina. Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson will be huge next year, there’s no question, but only one of them plays defense.
We’ve discussed how important the 2-3 zone is to Syracuse’s success, but think of it this way: it took basically all year for two fifth-year seniors to learn the 2-3 zone, and some expect freshmen to come in right away and learn it? Matt Moyer has practiced, but doesn’t have real game experience and Chukwu is extremely raw. Offensively, SU will need guys other than Battle and Thompson to score every night. Who and how many? To be determined.
A lot about next year will depend on who else SU adds to its roster moving forward — whether that’s 2017 prospects or graduate transfers. Just staying above .500 should be a goal for this team. There’s too many question marks to expect anything more right now. Again, that could change depending on any further additions to the roster — but it could be a long year.
My expectation for the 2017-18 season is that Syracuse makes the NCAA Tournament. I think Battle and Thompson can do a lot of heavy lifting on the offensive end, and as tough as the ACC is, Syracuse should be in a position to win close to 20 games each year. I'm very worried about what the roster looks like as a zone team and while I am not going to advocate switching to man full-time, I think the Orange have to show more variety than this year. Maybe the recruits coming in aren't NBA lottery candidates, but there is no excuse for Syracuse not to have the talent to be in the tournament every season.
As you’ve read it all by now, I’ll keep my answer short and sweet. I think we should come into the season expecting an NIT type season. Syracuse has a lost a ton in terms of talent and Hopkins. Unless Syracuse can bring in some great talent via the grad transfer market, I don’t see it shaking out to be a tournament year and even then it will take first year players time to adjust. If somehow Syracuse finds a way to get into the tournament, consider that a major accomplishment. As Ben wrote, sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.
Now it’s your turn! Join in on the conversation in the comment section.