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Hopeful for a return against Colgate, Syracuse basketball could use a healthy Frank Howard

After the UConn and Oregon games, Syracuse could really use a healthy Frank Howard.

Syracuse v Michigan State Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team could really use a healthy Frank Howard. Jim Boeheim is hopeful he’ll return for Wednesday’s game against Colgate.

After going 0-2 last Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden, Syracuse looked to be in dire need of a floor general after poor shooting in back-to-back nights and only 22 assists in two games. Following Syracuse’s loss to UConn, Boehiem thought that Howard could be out another week or two, but after the loss to Oregon he said he was hopeful for a return on Wednesday.

“Ideally we’ll try to practice him Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and hope he can play some Wednesday.” Boeheim said of Howard.

Howard was initially slated to return for the season opener. He’s since missed the first four games of the season with a lower left leg injury. Howard himself was not made available to speak to the media last week.

After the win against Morehead State in Syracuse’s second game of the season Boeheim likened Howard’s absence to a football team playing without a quarterback.

The Orange now rank No. 294 in the country in assists averaging only 11 per game while coughing the ball up 13 times per contest. Howard averaged almost half of the team’s current assist total last year with 4.7 assists per game. Right now as a team, Syracuse doesn’t even have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.

SU has been ice cold from range and combined to go 11-for-50 from distance at Madison Square Garden and now ranks No. 346 in the country in three point percentage (Ken Pom). Boeheim also thinks Howard — who was knocking down open threes at a 90 percent clip this summer — is the best in-game shooter from deep for Syracuse.

“Frank is the best shooter probably on our team in game situations from the three point line,” Boeheim said in the same presser.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round: Syracuse Orange vs TCU Horned Frogs Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Howard is a big loss because he’s been at Syracuse for four years and understands what needs to be done on both ends of the floor. He’s a veteran, he’s long and one of the best defenders in the zone and perhaps more importantly as it relates to this conversation, a pass-first point guard who can control tempo while getting other guys involved on the offensive end.

Now, is Howard the panacea that will come in and fix all of Syracuse’s offensive problems? No, let’s not pretend the offensive woes from the UConn and Oregon games fall into the scope of what one player is capable of fixing. Plus, Howard has sometimes — not all the time — been fairly criticized for turning the ball over and making questionable decisions.

But make no mistake, he’s imperative to this Syracuse team. Given the offensive prowess of Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey, those guys could stand to benefit from someone who can get into the gaps of defenses and facilitate to help create shots. So far this season we’ve seen a good amount of iso basketball. While that’s not necessarily something new, the guys on this team who do the heavy lifting in the scoring column could use some help being set up for easier looks.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round: Syracuse Orange vs TCU Horned Frogs Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

While Howard is able to create both in open space and in ball-screen pick-and-roll scenarios, he’s not just a table-setter. He proved that he can score last year too because Syracuse needed him to, but he might not have to as much when he’s back.

Hughes, Battle, and Brissett are all better than what they displayed last week while Carey demonstrated that he’s a walking bucket. Boeheim noted that he would have played Howard and Carey together last week if he could have — with all those offensive options around the former, Howard can be a facilitator when he does return without being forced to take shots.

That should make the offense better when he is back in the fold. It might take time for Howard to shake off the rust when he does return, but right now the Orange sorely misses its vocal leader on the court.

Syracuse needs Howard back in the trenches. The sooner, the better.