We’ve given you even more time to process what this season showcased, so it’s time to get back into the flow of looking at how various classes of Orange players prevailed (or didn’t) this past season.
This week’s topic will be the play of the sophomores and how, despite the departure of Tyler Lydon, they hold the keys to whether next season will be successful or not. The notbale sophomores from last season include Lydon, Frank Howard, and Paschal Chukwu.
Let’s start with looking at the best of them all, Lydon. Tyler finished the season averaging 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, both improvements from his freshman year. You can’t complain about improvements, but Lydon’s game was supposed to be even more exceptional as he came into the season as the go-to guy.
Lydon struggled to find his shot at the start of the season, but as time went by the stretch forward was able to be lethal from inside and outside the arc. Still, despite his improved shooting, Lydon showed a tendency to pass up open looks that a star player should take.
Still, Lydon may have been the most complete player for Syracuse this season -- though his inability to lead them on offense hurt the Orange when it mattered most. Andrew White III became the team’s go-to scorer, but his lack of versatile play hurt Syracuse late in games.
Lydon now heads to the NBA with a scouting report that seems to light up the face of all general managers when they hear it: stretch forward with a soft touch inside. Despite the potential in his game, Lydon still has a lot to work on if he wants to make an impact at the next level.
The other two sophomores are returning for Syracuse next season. First off is the likely starting point guard in Frank Howard, who had a disappointing 2016-17 season. Howard started off the season as the starting point guard, but inconsistent play prompted coach Jim Boeheim to replace him with John Gillon.
Howard showed flashes of excellence against weaker opponents, but when the significant games arrived the sophomore point guard seemed flustered and unprepared. His inconsistent shot and tendency to turn the ball over (he averaged 1.7 per game this year) prevented Boeheim from playing Howard starter minutes.
There were eight games this season where Howard had three or more turnovers, a stat that no point guard should showcase if they want to be known as a starter. With Gillon gone, Howard now becomes the expected starting point guard next season.
Boeheim sees next year’s starting backcourt as experienced as it can be; the likely backcourt duo of Howard and Tyus Battle was supposed to start this year, but Howard needed more time and now has two years of experience under his belt.
Boeheim is going to be looking for consistent play out of his starting point guard next year, so Howard will need to have a career changing off season for him to help the Orange accomplish their goals.
The final piece to the sophomore puzzle is Paschal Chukwu, the 7’2” center who only appeared in seven games this season due to an unfortunate eye injury. This is now two missed seasons for Chukwu in Orange, as his transfer from Providence held him out of his first season at Syracuse.
Chukwu is a 7’2” body in the paint that can do wonders for Boeheim’s zone if he learns more to the game of basketball. He’s as raw of a talent as there is, but if he can learn how to defend without fouling and how to use his size down low on the offensive side of the ball, then Boeheim will have no problem playing him significant minutes next year.
Chukwu is too tall to only average 4.1 rebounds per game for the Orange, so rebounding will also be an area of improvement for him this off season. He is lanky which allows him to get pushed around at times down low, but he’ll be an excellent rebounder and defender if he learns how to box out and contest layups by simply going straight up.
Howard and Chukwu may not be the best players in orange next season, but they are the X-factors in terms of how good this team can be. If Howard can have a Scoop Jardine-type turnaround, and Chukwu can improve a little in all areas, then this team can make a little noise in the ACC next year.