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Syracuse Basketball: Will the guards carry the load once again in 2018-19?

Frank Howard and Tyus Battle have something they didn’t have much of last year; backcourt help.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange basketball team was carried by its dynamic backcourt last year with Frank Howard and Tyus Battle leading the nation in minutes played. While it seems like the two returning veterans will be relied upon once again to carry the bulk of the offensive load, the backcourt should be replenished with depth in 2018-2019.

Battle made the Syracuse faithful hold their breath this summer with his NBA Draft decision, but the dynamic scorer decided to return for what will likely be his last season in orange. He exploded last year on the offensive end of the floor as he put up 19.2 points per game, good for the third leading scorer in the ACC.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
Can Tyus Battle improve off of his impressive sophomore campaign?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Battle’s ability to consistently beat his man off the dribble made him one of the toughest players to guard in the country, but it’ll be the consistency of his jumper that’ll be the real test for the junior guard. Battle spent this summer working out with venerable trainer Drew Hanlen out in Los Angeles, so coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange can only hope that their star guard will shine even brighter this year.

The Orange will go as far as Battle will take them, but that doesn’t mean the potential first round pick won’t have some help in the backcourt this year. Of course, there’s Howard, who made drastic improvements last year with his jump in playing-time (he played 38.4 minutes per game compared to 16.2 minutes in his sophomore campaign).

Howard upped his points and assists per game to 14.4 and 4.7, respectively. His turnovers did rise to 3.4 per game, but that will happen when you’re averaging the second most minutes per game in the nation (second only to his backcourt mate, Tyus Battle).

This will be Howard’s final season in orange, as he is looking to leave a mark greater than making it to the Final Four. The key for the senior guard is similar to Battle’s: improve his perimeter jump-shot, and limit the amount of turnovers he makes late in crucial games. As the point guard of coach Jim Boeheim’s offense, it is important to maintain possession of the ball and knock down open shots when they come to you.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Another question mark surrounding the senior point guard is his health, due to the lower left leg injury he suffered this summer. Howard was still in a walking boot during the Orange vs. White Scrimmage last Friday.

Due to the lack of depth, last year’s roster left little room for error from the backcourt of Howard and Battle. However, this year’s team is, dare I say, loaded with backcourt support. Howard Washington is getting closer than before to his return from his ACL injury — Washington can surely control the offense if the ball was put in his hands. Newcomers Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim are also here to help give Howard and Battle some support on both ends of the floor.

Carey’s Syracuse career got off to an unfortunate start in Friday’s scrimmage when he went down with a sprained ankle. Once healthy, Carey will provide an explosive skillset in the backcourt, one that showcases a combination of quickness and athleticism. The Orange have shown no fear in relying on their freshman to put up big minutes in key games, and that sure isn’t going to stop with Carey’s arrival to the team.

Syracuse basketball’s Jalen Carey shoots in the Hoophall Classic
The Orange need Jalen Carey to have minimal freshman mistakes this year.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

An exciting storyline will be Buddy Boeheim’s impact on this year’s team. Being coached by your father is always a unique experience, but the fit won’t be a problem as long as he is knocking down threes like he did in the Orange vs. White scrimmage. It’s going to be hard for the younger Boeheim to find consistent minutes in this crowded backcourt, but his shooting will always make him a viable option to have on the floor.

The guards are going to be needed once again to perform on both ends of the floor, but the added depth and experience to the position will make it an even more dominant strength for this year’s squad.