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The forgotten player? Looking at Elijah Hughes’s potential impact on Syracuse

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Don’t forget about the Orange’s dynamic transfer guard.

NCAA Basketball: East Carolina at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

With Tyus Battle’s recent decision to test the NBA Draft waters, the Syracuse Orange are now left with a possible questionmark in the backcourt — or are they?

Once Geno Thorpe departed last year, Paschal Chukwu was the lone imported talent on the floor for SU last season. However, there was also a transfer sitting on the bench, waiting for the NCAA’s questionable rules to take its place—the forgotten player: Elijah Hughes. Hughes transferred from Eastern Carolina University, where he averaged 7.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in just 20.5 minutes per game.

Hughes stands at 6-foot-6, so he slides in perfectly at the guard spot for the Orange, where he can use his size to his advantage on both ends of the floor. Hughes is a volume scorer who can get hot in bunches as we saw in his one year with ECU. He had nine games where he scored in double figures for the Pirates, with his breakout performance coming against South Florida, scoring 19 points.

Hughes’s ability to space the floor and attack the rim is just what Syracuse was missing last year, but now the transfer will have a chance to showcase it for 2018-19 as SU could be in need of a shooting guard.

If Battle decides to stay in the draft and take on the NBA, Hughes would slide right into the backcourt alongside Frank Howard. Howard and Battle became a pretty lethal duo last year in terms of scoring and generating steals at the top of the zone.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
Can coach Jim Boeheim find a way to use Elijah Hughes to replace Tyus Battle’s production?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Hughes’s ability to shoot the ball from deep will work perfectly with Howard’s own ability to penetrate the lane, thus giving Hughes easier opportunities to score. When Howard and forward Oshae Brissett feel the ball pressure from the opposing defense, Hughes can take some of the pressure off of them by creating offense on his own.

But he’s going to need to become a more consistent shooter if he wants to have a great impact on next year’s team. As a freshman with East Carolina, he hit just 34.9 percent of his shots, and 27.3 percent of threes. A full season of working primarily on his shot and his role within the 2-3 zone should do him wonders for the 2018-2019 season when he finally gets back on the court in real game minutes.

While Hughes isn’t known as a lethal defender, he was able to average 0.6 steals a game in 2016-17 in his limited time (20 minutes per game). With Howard and Hughes both providing size at the guard spots, the Orange will once again have a long backcourt, giving them the capability to generate steals early and often.

We’re unlikely to know about Battle’s future until the end of May, so for now, SU fans might as well start operating under the assumption that Hughes becomes the team’s new starter at the 2. Should Battle come back, that still makes for a formidable guard rotation, even before factoring in standout recruit Jalen Carey, plus Buddy Boeheim. In any case, wihle Hughes waited in the wings this past year, he shouldn’t be forgotten anymore in 2018-19. He’s about to become a major part of Syracuse’s upcoming season.