After a run to the Sweet 16 this year, hype is already building for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team next year.
This IS Syracuse after all, though, and a long offseason usually deals at least a surprise or two (Matthew Moyer already announced that he’ll transfer). Tyus Battle is likely to weigh his NBA Draft prospects, and for all we know, Oshae Brissett could consider his options there as well. As always, there are things we think we know about the 2018-19 Orange team. I won’t feel truly comfortable with any of it being set in stone until around October.
We’ll be discussing potential starting lineups tomorrow. But in the meantime, are we all getting ahead of ourselves a little bit for this fall?
ESPN seems to think the additions of Darius Bazley and Jalen Carey, in particular, should help improve two of Syracuse’s biggest problems in 2017-18: Depth and scoring ability. Bazley will help the forwards be far more dynamic on the offensive end, and an athletic ability that was most apparent from Brissett alone at that spot (Marek Dolezaj improved, but is still a work in progress). Carey is a prolific scorer at the high school level, and would be able to take some of the load off of Frank Howard and potentially Battle, should he return.
There’s also the addition of Elijah Hughes, which could pay big dividends for the backcourt, especially given his experience practicing within the system already. If he’s a three-point shooter at all, the offense could see huge steps forward.
That last part is really where this team will rise and fall in 2018-19. The Orange were one of the country’s worst teams from beyond the arc this past year, and that put a lot of onus on the defense to help pull them back from deficits. They managed it numerous times, of course. However, that’s also why they fell short on other comebacks. The offensive firepower was entirely based on hitting a contested mid-range shot or being able to drive the lane. A three-point shooter would automatically open up the offensive spacing and create something more interesting (and tougher to guard).
Buddy Boeheim could also factor in there, if he shows himself to be a better sharpshooter from distance during the summer than the team’s other options. Some of SU’s best recent teams have been very reliable from three, with options like Andy Rautins, James Southerland and Trevor Cooney. Buddy wouldn’t even have to be on the same level as one of those playeres. If he or Hughes could fill that role for even a few reliable threes per game, though, it would make a huge difference.
On Syracuse.com, Mike Waters believes that the Orange could contend for ACC and even a national title next year if everyone returns.
The team’s biggest weaknesses this year were depth, health, outside shooting and offensive efficiency. All of those could be addressed by some rest for the roster’s overworked players, and the additional names available in the lineup. Syracuse could make another add or two in the form of a grad transfer as well, if it chose. But it doesn’t have to, unlike some recent years (especially 2016-17).
In 2017-18, Syracuse was one of the slowest paced teams in the country, with a middling offense. That combo put it all on the defense to make enough stops, and hope SU could hit about 40 percent of its shots to keep it a game.
With depth and heath no longer an issue, next year’s team could push the tempo somewhat. They won’t be Oklahoma or Auburn or any of the other fastest teams in the country from this past season. But as we know with the football team, more possessions means more opportunities for points.
More points could also make up for a defense that may not necessarily perform at the same level we saw for much of this year, either. Battle departing would be a loss on the defensive end for sure. And even if he stayed, integrating less experienced players into the lineup would inevitably lead to lapses. Frank Howard is a very good defender and will remain one this fall. However, he could also use a break here and there. Taking him off the floor could yield a slight step back on the defensive end as well. That’s not stay SU should work Howard and Battle like they did this year just because of defense. I think we’d prefer to keep them fresh for longer in games. And the younger guys could use some run out there.
All of this does seem to point to something that could be a special team in 2018-19, though. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting from recruits, but Bazely seems special (and his top-10 recruiting ranking also indicates as much). Carey’s dynamic, at the very least. Buddy’s been taught how to play the game by one of the best basketball minds around (his dad, Jim Boeheim).
Is it realistic to think that next year’s Syracuse team could be a national title contender? This year’s squad was able to will itself to the Sweet 16 with intangibles like guts and effort, plus a debilitating 2-3 zone. Add some offense to the mix for next season, even with a small decline on defense, and it’s not necessarily a stretch to visualize this team playing on the final weekend of the season.
Maybe we have to reevaluate based on Battle’s decision to go pro (or not). For right now, though, I’m willing to entertain the idea that this team should be hanging around the top 10 for the first time since 2014.