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Syracuse basketball: What could have been with Taurean Thompson this year?

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What if the forward never left the Orange?

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season and ACC Tournament, officially over for the Syracuse Orange, they now must wait and think about what they did, and didn’t do well, until this Sunday’s selection show. The Orange have put themselves back on the bubble, and now must hope and pray that four quadrant one wins (after Buffalo’s win) are enough to get a bid to the Big Dance.

This season was full of ups and downs, but there remains one question that will always be left unanswered: what if Taurean Thompson had stayed?. The former Orangeman announced he would be transferring in late August, leaving Syracuse absent of any post scoring for the season.

Thompson averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in his one season with the Orange, as his versatile offensive skillset helped him contribute as a freshman. He struggled to learn the 2-3 zone, but Thompson gave the Orange something they desperately could have used this year: interior scoring.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Orange relied on their perimeter players in Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett to carry the bulk of the scoring this year—49.5 points per game to be specific. Paschal Chukwu is not a polished post player, and Bourama Sidibe was injury prone all year long, so the Orange were left relying on dribble drives and contested threes in half-court offensive sets.

With the lack of shooting on this year’s roster, the Orange could have really used a player to throw the ball down to in a time of need — insert Thompson. Time and time again, Syracuse was left relying on an isolation bucket from one of their “big three” perimeter players as the shot clock dwindled down.

Another key area Thompson could have helped in was the pick and roll. Chukwu was typically the player setting the screen, but his limited offensive capabilities left the ball handler taking a contested shot the majority of the time.

If the screener was Thompson, the defense wouldn’t have be able to send both guys at the ball handler, rather they would be left deciding between which player to prioritize, leaving an open shot available inside the lane or on the perimeter.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina vs Syracuse
Tyus Battle could have really used Taurean Thompson’s help this year.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The other “what if” question was what the dynamic duo of Battle and Thompson could have done for the team. Syracuse knew they had two talented freshmen last year, but their veteran players took up most of the playing time, leaving the Orange with hope of what could take place the following year (this year).

With Thompson, Syracuse wouldn’t have had to rely on Howard and Brissett as much offensively, as his post presence would have commanded a ton of attention from opposing defenses. However, Howard and Brissett became the second and third scoring options respectively, and they did all they could to support Battle—but was it enough? We’ll find out this Sunday.

We’ll never know how successful this team could have been if Thompson had stayed at SU, but we do know is that his offensive presence down low was truly missed. With luck, it’s not nearly the same issue next year, though. Perhaps a healthy Sidibe helps at least fix some of that concern?