There will be a rare air of familiarity surrounding the Syracuse Orange this season. For the first time since 2000, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will return all five of his starters from the previous season.
“I think it’s been 15 or 20 years since we’ve had everybody back,” Boeheim says. “To have juniors and seniors is unheard of at our level.”
Syracuse was the last team selected for the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, but once in, the Orange advanced to the Sweet 16. SU’s three NCAA victories all came thanks to Boeheim’s stingy 2-3 zone. Syracuse didn’t score more than 60 points in any of its NCAA wins over Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State.
Now, Boeheim has a squad full of veterans who understand his zone plus an influx of young talent to address the lack of depth that plagued last year’s team.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Jim Boeheim
2017-18 RECORD (ACC): 23-14 (8-10)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Duke 69-65 in the Sweet 16
F Matthew Moyer (3.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
The traditional Syracuse frontcourt consists of long, rangy players who can extend the zone from corner to corner. Those traits are the strength of this year’s Orange.
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Boeheim returns the starting frontcourt of sophomore forwards Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj, 6'8" and 6'10" respectively, plus 7'2" center Paschal Chukwu. Brissett’s average of 14.9 points per game was the fifth highest ever for a Syracuse freshman, and his 8.8 rebounds ranked behind only Carmelo Anthony. Boeheim says Brissett is only going to get better as he matures.
Dolezaj, a native of Slovakia, stepped into the starting lineup midway through the season, becoming the Orange’s glue guy. He does a little bit of everything, ranking third on the team in blocks and assists.
After playing in only seven games the previous two seasons, Chukwu became Syracuse’s full-time starting center. He blocked 91 shots, more than any Orange player in 10 years. If Bourama Sidibe recovers from surgery to ease the tendinitis in his left knee, Chukwu might be more efficient in fewer minutes.
Elijah Hughes, a 6'6" sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from East Carolina, is a gifted outside shooter who could boost Syracuse’s offense. Robert Braswell, a 6'7" freshman, was the two-time South Carolina state champion in the high jump.
Tyus Battle carried a huge burden last season. The 6'6" guard was one of the few options in Syracuse’s anemic offense, averaging 19.2 points, the most for a Syracuse player since Hakim Warrick in 2005. Battle, who entered his name in the NBA Draft before deciding at the 11th hour to return to school, still figures to be Syracuse’s go-to guy, but Boeheim is hoping the Orange won’t have to go to him quite as much.
“I think he can do more,” Boeheim says. “I think he can play with more energy because he won’t have to play 40 minutes every night.”
Also returning is senior point guard Frank Howard, who averaged 14.4 points per game in his first year as the Orange’s full-time starter.
The backcourt will get a boost from Jalen Carey, a highly rated combo guard. Buddy Boeheim, the coach’s son, is a bona fide 3-point shooting threat. Howard Washington, a sophomore point guard, is coming off knee surgery.
The return of Battle gives Syracuse an experienced scorer, and his supporting cast figures to enjoy significant improvement, especially young forwards Brissett and Dolezaj. The additions of Hughes and Carey could also add some zip to the Orange’s offense.
“We should be at least as good on defense, but the difference will be on offense,” Boeheim says. “We’re going to be better just with the guys we have back, but we are adding some good offensive players, too.”
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
ACC Prediction: 5th