Here we go—the “real” season has arrived. The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (9-4) begins ACC play against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-4) on the road Saturday at noon ET. The Orange didn’t meet expectations in non-conference play, as their offense showed similarities to last year’s inconsistency, leading to multiple disappointing losses.
Injuries were a headline of the first 13 games of the season for the Orange, but now that the whole roster seems to be ready for the toughest part of the season, Syracuse has no excuses for letdown in their final 18 games of the season. SU needs to make some noise in ACC play if they want to be dancing in March, and that job starts tomorrow at the Purcell Pavilion against the Fighting Irish.
Are we about to enter the year of Tyus Battle?
If the Orange want to meet their preseason expectations, they are going to need to rely heavily on their leading scorer, Tyus Battle. Battle has had an up-and-down season so far, but he was one free throw away from being perfect in Syracuse’s last game, as he finished with 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the line in the win.
Syracuse doesn’t need Battle to be “perfect” in 2019 to make the NCAAs, but they need their offensive leader to be aggressive with the ball in his hand each time he steps on the floor. The junior guard needs to continue attacking the basket instead of settling for contested jumpers, because that’s when Battle, and the Orange in general, are at their best.
Can Frank Howard reset for ACC play?
I know I sound like a broken record, but Frank Howard is going to have to play a whole lot better if the Orange are going to win the big ACC games that are approaching them. After having a breakout season last year, Howard hasn’t been able to find his rhythm since returning from injury (TBD how close he is to 100-percent health at his point).
The senior point guard is averaging just 5.8 points and 3.7 assists in the nine games he has played this season. As coach Jim Boeheim has said numerous times, Howard is the “quarterback” to the Syracuse offense; the Orange need Howard to be aggressive off the dribble as his ability to get into the lane will open up perimeter shots for Elijah Hughes, and second penetration from players like Battle and Oshae Brissett. Howard is running out of time to get up to speed, but with the “new” season starting tomorrow, he has a chance to forget about the past, and focus on playing the brand of basketball we grew to love last year.
Can the Orange get consistent performances from Oshae Brissett?
Oshae Brissett, arguably the most talented player on the team, has had his ups and downs this season on the offensive end. Brissett is averaging 13.8 points per game this year on just 39% shooting from the field. He’ll need to be the Robin to Battle’s Batman if the Orange are going to reach their full potential, and that starts with Brissett understanding his strengths.
The sophomore forward can get hot from deep on the right night, but Brissett is so much better when his shots are coming from around the rim where he can use his size and athleticism to his advantage — Brissett is sure to see that field goal percentage rise if he moves a few steps inside the arc where he can dominant like we know he can. That’ll also get him to the free throw line more. He’s averaging 5.5 foul shots per game this year, versus six last year, while hitting those at a 12.5-percent lower rate. So if he’s going to be less accurate from the line, at least getting there more can help make up the difference.
Slowing down T.J. Gibbs
The Fighting Irish have three players who average double figures in scoring, with T.J. Gibbs being the leading scorer for Notre Dame at 14.5 points per game. Gibbs is able to score inside and outside the three-point arc — hitting 35.8 percent of his shots from distance so far (on 95 attempts). Syracuse will need to keep an eye on him once the Fighting Irish cross half court. Individual players can get hot from deep against Syracuse’s zone, so watch for Gibbs to be a focal point of the Orange’s defensive strategy.
Is Marek Dolezaj now the permanent starting center for the Orange?
Marek Dolezaj has started the last two games at center for the Orange, and it has led to two wins for them. Dolezaj is averaging just six points, 2.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in his new starting role, but it’s the intangibles that the Slovakian forward brings to the floor that makes him so important for the Orange. With stronger and bigger players coming Syracuse’s way in ACC play, it may be hard for Dolezaj to match their strength—but if there’s one thing we know about the 6-foot-10 forward, it’s that he always finds a way to make the winning plays happen.