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Don’t lose realism with Tyus Battle’s return to Syracuse

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I’m not being a wet blanket, I swear...

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

As all Syracuse Orange fans well know by this point, Tyus Battle has opted to return to the men’s basketball team for the 2018-19 season, rather than enter his name into the NBA Draft pool.

That’s great news (for us), obviously. And Syracuse is better for it. However, we’re already wading into dangerous territory around expectations for this team. Hell, I was guilty of it myself on Wednesday while reading the news.

The Orange are going to be a good team this coming season -- and likely a better one than the young and overworked group that still dragged themselves to the Sweet 16 this past spring. But how much better are we talking here?

While a good number of fans manage to endorse some realism in the above poll from Brent Axe, over 30 percent (as of this writing) are all aboard with SU suddenly vaulting into the top 10. If you consider half of the 10-20 range votes as “top 15,” that translates to well over 50 percent seeing Syracuse as a top 15 team, all because everyone returned.

There are clearly two sides to that coin.

On the positive side:

Last year’s inexperience gives way to more veteran play this season and continued development from players like Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe and Oshae Brissett.

Without last year’s depth problems, Syracuse could be better by default, even if no player actually shows signs of individual progress.

Elijah Hughes is added to the mix, as are Buddy Boeheim (I’d say a likely redshirt), Jalen Carey and Robert Braswell.

Syracuse’s strong finish to the season -- three NCAA Tournament wins and a close game vs. Duke -- show that they always had the ability to contend with the top teams in the country during the 2017-18 season.

And, of course, the negative:

All the players from last year’s inefficient offense (135th, per KenPom) are back, with no guarantees they improve in that department. Battle, particularly, lacked efficiency shooting the basketball, which was a big concern from NBA scouts.

This is still a team largely leaning on the backcourt and the one through three spots for nearly all of its scoring unless there’s major progress from a forward not named Brissett.

Last year’s Sweet 16 team was the last team in the NCAA Tournament, despite wildly out-playing its seed once they arrived. They basically made it in based on three wins (Louisville, Miami, Clemson), while failing in most of the other upper-tier matchups all season.

Carey and Hughes might be the only new additions ready to add immediate help.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Practice Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

None of this is to be a wet blanket. As I linked to above, I’m like many of the other wide-eyed and optimistic Orange fans out there regarding what this means for Syracuse’s potential this year. But it’s worth noting that until we see the results, potential is all it really is.

Last year’s team had potential, and go the chance to realize it in the NCAA Tournament by way of teams falling into the trap of playing exactly the type of game we wanted them to (hi, Michigan State). This year, those exact players comprise the potential we have to equal or better that Sweet 16 trip. More talented and dynamic Orange teams have fallen short of that plateau. Lesser squads have advanced further.

Those specters of what happened before will inevitably color our expectations as the season draws closer. It shouldn’t, but it always does. The same may be said for some pollsters. But plenty more will also lack the sort of emotional attachment we fall victim to and plant SU’s early ranking somewhere between 20 and outside the rankings entirely.

As we usually do, we’ll get mad, collect receipts and then lie in wait. That’s fine, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. However, just think back to this conversation when we do it.

Syracuse has every opportunity to leave its recent underdog role and reclaim its place as an upper-echelon program this coming season. Until they actually do so, it’s just a chance, though. And that’s where the realism must come in if we’re being fair -- both to ourselves as fans, and this team.