Last Wednesday, Tyus Battle announced that he would return to Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team for 2018-19 after flirting with the NBA Draft. The move was rather unexpected, as many predicted that the sophomore standout would forgo his final two years of eligibility. A report from Zagsblog’s Adam Zagoria had even indicated that Battle would “likely” remain in the draft.
With Battle staying at Syracuse, the Orange will return all five starters — Frank Howard, Battle, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Paschal Chukwu -- from a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament. This is not only a rare feat in today’s college game, but also in (recent) Syracuse men’s basketball history.
Since Jim Boeheim began his Hall of Fame career as head coach in 1976, only three other teams have returned their entire starting lineup from the previous season, per Orangehoops.com.
The first occurrence was the 1982-1983 season. The prior year’s team started freshman Andre Hawkins, sophomore Gene Waldron, along with juniors Leo Rautins, Tony Bruin, and Erich Santifer. Although senior Ron Payton started 16 games when Bruin and Rautins were injured, each junior spent more time in the starting lineup than the Orangemen’s sixth man. After finishing the season 16-13 with a loss to Bradley in second round of the NIT, Syracuse returned all of Hawkins, Waldron, Rautins, Bruin, and Santifer for the following season. SU translated this veteran experience into a 21-10 record, with an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a close game to Ohio State.
The Orangemen entered 1999-2000 once again bringing back all of their starters. The year before, Syracuse started sophomores Allen Griffin and Damone Brown, with juniors Ryan Blackwell, Etan Thomas, and Jason Hart. That team went 21-12, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Oklahoma State. SU returned Griffin, Brown, Blackwell, Thomas, and Hart in 1999-2000 and enjoyed a 26-6 record, a Big East regular season championship, and and an appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
For the third time, Syracuse returned all of their starters at the start of the 2004-2005 campaign. During the 2003-2004 season, the Orangemen’s starting lineup featured sophomores Billy Edelin and Gerry McNamara, and juniors Josh Pace, Hakim Warrick, and Craig Forth. But after starting 16 of the first 17 games of the year, Billy sat out the rest of the season for personal reasons, and was replaced by freshman Demetris Nichols, who started 15 games. The team later finished 23-8 and lost to Alabama in the Sweet 16. Syracuse then began the 2004-2005 season with each of Edelin, McNamara, Pace, Warrick, and Forth.
However, one could argue that the team didn’t truly return every starter that year, as Edelin had missing academic coursework to complete and didn’t play until December. He then appeared in 20 games (starting three) before eventually ending his Syracuse career in February due to continued complications away from the court. In his absence that year, sophomores Louie McCroskey, Demetris Nichols and Terrence Roberts started 16, 8, and 7 games, respectively. The Orange posted a 27-7 record and won the Big East Championship, but was upset by Vermont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (ugh).
Looking to the 2018-19 season, Syracuse’s roster has an invaluable amount of experience that will allow for the team to build upon an already impressive result last year. Five starters are returning, as well as two contributors from last year in Bourama Sidibe and Howard Washington -- both recovering from injuries.
Unlike past years, two key additions to the team already have experience with Syracuse’s system and existing chemistry, too. Sophomore Elijah Hughes redshirted all of last season at Syracuse as a transfer, and Buddy Boeheim obviously grew up in the program.
If past results are any indicator—albeit with a small sample size—the Orange’s veteran leadership has the potential to make them a contender in the ACC, and lead to a deeper run in March in 2019.