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What would Syracuse basketball’s small-ball lineup look like?

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You got to be the champs to beat the champs.

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

The game of basketball is changing, and it may be time for the Syracuse Orange to accept it. With an increased volume of three-point attempts and faster tempo of play at the NBA level, there’s viability playing a small-ball lineup of versatile wings who can defend multiple positions, but most importantly, space the floor.

The Orange didn’t have many, if any, perimeter threats last year. But the 2018-2019 team may, we hope will, look different. The addition of Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey will give the Orange two more playmaking guards who will be relied upon to contribute right away. The old school idea would be to play the two as a backup backcourt. But why can’t SU adjust to the wider change, and insert them into a small-ball lineup, or dare I say, “death lineup?”

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
A few easy shots for Frank Howard will open the entire floor for him.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors made the “death lineup” phrase famous with their idea of current and former All Stars who can create off the dribble, defend multiple positions, and consistently hit threes.

Golden State’s dominant “death lineup” caused other teams to adapt and put out five guys who can keep up with their firepower and pace of play — resulting in 10 undersized players for their position being on the court all at once.

Now, let’s slow down for a second: the Orange don’t have players capable of doing what Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green are able to do, but they do have promising players who are versatile and able to impact both ends of the floor.

Let’s take a look at what kind of small-ball lineup the Orange can send out there that’ll give opposing teams trouble. The three players who would be “locked” into a role in the “death lineup” would be last year’s big three of Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange
A small-ball lineup could make Oshae Brissett nearly impossible to stop.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

All three of those guys can beat their man off the dribble, giving them the option to not only score, but find open teammates too. The real question mark for these three would be how much they improved their three-point shot, because if they did, then them three alone can make it a living nightmare for their opponents.

Now, how do we fill those final two spots? Well, there are really three main options: Marek Dolezaj, Elijah Hughes, and Jalen Carey. Dolezaj likely comes in an as the favorite for the first spot, as he proved last year that he is as versatile as it gets, and knows how to make winning plays late in ballgames.

Having him and Brissett as the two “big” guys in the small-ball lineup will allow the Orange to have five guys who can get out and run, which would tire out the opponent in a matter of one half—that is if coach Jim Boeheim decides to push the tempo. Improving his perimeter shot will only make Dolezaj even more of a versatile threat, but it’s his ability to play with effort and hustle, as well as his knack for being in the right spot at the right time, that makes him so essential for next year’s team — dare we call him our Draymond Green?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
Marek Dolezaj is the X-factor to making this all work.
MaSteven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Now we are left with Hughes and Carey, two guys that could easily fit in this small-ball lineup Syracuse needed a guy like Hughes last year who is a microwave scorer that can knock it down from deep. Playing him on the perimeter off of dribble penetration from Howard, Battle, and Brissett will leave him open in the corner more often than not. Harrison Barnes thrived in that role with the Warriors back in his “Golden” era, but he used his athleticism more than his perimeter shot to his advantage. Hughes may be entering his first “real” season at Syracuse, but they’ll need him to play like a veteran if they want this small-ball lineup to truly work.

Then there’s Carey, the incoming freshman who can blow by defenders with ease. Carey isn’t as well known for his perimeter shooting, but he isn’t a big-time liability in that regard either. Carey adds another attacking combo guard to the “death lineup”, something that could have a positive and negative effect to the team. Having players who can beat their man off the dribble is always a good thing, but the paint could get clogged if he struggles to shoot the ball from deep.

Carey is an exciting young player for the Orange who will most definitely have an impactful role next year, but Hughes may just be the perfect fit for the “death lineup” due to his experience and ability to space the floor.

Finally, we have our “death lineup” — Frank Howard Elijah Hughes, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Marek Dolezaj. All five players are athletic enough to guard at least two positions, and all five are also able to thrive in their own way on offense.

This isn’t the 73-win Warriors, but it is a five-man-lineup for opposing teams to be extremely worried about if coach Boeheim decides to join the youth wave and play small. Spacing, versatility, and speed — Syracuse has a chance to change with the game, or even lead the pack in an always tough ACC this season.