Syracuse men’s basketball goes into the upcoming season with games starting this week…and one thing is on everyone’s minds: How will Syracuse fare this year following their disappointing 2016-2017 season. The Orange went from the Final Four in 2016 as the number 10 seed, to not even making it past the second round in the NIT tournament last year.
In the last few years, inconsistency seems to be the recurring theme for the Orange, and once again Coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange will head into this season with something to prove.
With nine returning players this season and half of the team being underclassman, Syracuse is faced with a disadvantage in lack of experience.
Two of the team’s presumed top players this season, Tyus Battle and Matthew Moyer, are both returning sophomores. Moyer did not play last season but still considers himself a veteran on the team and leader on the floor. It surprised a lot of people when Moyer decided to redshirt his freshman year. But he stands by the choice, saying that the experience humbled and prepared him for this upcoming season.
Someone who will definitely be looking to Battle and Moyer to ease his transition into the program is freshman forward, Marek Dolezaj, hailing all the way from Bratislava, Slovakia. The 2017-2018 season marks the first time the program has directly recruited a foreign player outside of North America.
"He’s an American kind of player. He doesn't play as much like a European as some typical big guys where they can just shoot outside, Coach Boehaim said. "He can put the ball on the floor, drive; active player, rebounds it, jumps well, pretty good shooter. Not as good as most European big guys, but a pretty good shooter. But he works hard at the game; he understands the game.”
While not a returning Syracuse player, University of South Florida graduate transfer Geno Thorpe brings a lot of experience. Thorpe led USF in a number of categories including scoring (15.1), assists (4.6), steals (1.6), minutes played (33.0), free throw percentage (.846) and starts (27). He was also tied for second in 3-pointers made (39). Thorpe spent half of his undergraduate career at Penn State and then transferred to USF for his junior and senior year. On Thorpe, Boeheim said that he is a good defensive player and the team has the potential to be better defensively as a whole this year.
Freshmen forwards Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Bourama Sidibe are all over 6’8’’ and bring a lot of height off the bench for the Orange.
Boeheim also spoke to what the team had done over the summer in preparation for the upcoming season. Freshmen were in Syracuse for both sessions this summer, which is rare, and coach Boeheim believes the players and team are ahead because of that.
He also points to the improvement of a number of his players from last year. Boeheim believes Battle worked extremely hard over the summer and is a lot stronger, more physical and more confident in his position on the floor and on the team. Following a slow start to his freshman season, Battle ended it averaging 11.3 points per game, while shooting 43%.
Another familiar face stepping back onto the court this year is junior guard Frank Howard. He was the Orange’s starting point guard for 14 games last season before losing his starting position to graduate John Gillon. Howard started the season averaging 6.8 points and 6.0 assists per game before falling to 2.6 points and 1.8 assists in the latter part. While his performance was clearly suffering, it was unbeknownst to the public that he had been playing much of the year injured. Howard had torn four core muscles that required surgery during the offseason. Now healthy again, Howard is expected to play a big role for the Orange this season and take back his starting position.
Boeheim speaks to returning junior Howard when he said, “He works hard, he’s getting better. We’ll see what he can do. I think he’s improved. I think he’s shooting the ball better. He was a little rusty; obviously he didn't play this summer. I don’t think that hurt him that much ‘cause he’s had plenty game experience, but I think that he’s a much better player this year at this stage than he was last year.”
Recounting last year’s team and its record (19-15, 10-8), Boeheim said they were good but it took too long to get started. He explains they lost early games they couldn't afford to lose. He stressed the fact that the ACC is the best league in the country, and winning 10 games in the conference is no small feat.
The Orange have had to work a lot of new players into their system over the years and with the one-and-done rule currently in effect, it is a fact that everybody relies on young players in college basketball.
The team lost sophomore forward Tyler Lydon, who declared for the NBA draft after last season and went 24th in the first round to the Utah Jazz before being traded to the Denver Nuggets. The Orange will certainly miss Lydon this year; he started all 34 games last season and averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The team will definitely be looking to their freshman big men to add height on the floor.
Boeheim believes this year’s team will not be as effective offensively as they have been in the past, especially on the three-point line, where they made 38% of their attempts last season. With such a young and new team, a lot of people have already counted Syracuse out and called this a rebuilding year for the program. Many returning players are setting out to prove everyone wrong and the new players are looking to prove themselves in the longstanding and successful Syracuse program.
With 42 seasons under coach Boeheim’s belt, he still looks to continue to grow this program and always build the best team he can. With his son Buddy committing to Syracuse starting next year, there seems to be no end in sight for the coaching veteran, which means the legacy goes on.
Watch the Syracuse Orange in their first exhibition game of the season this Wednesday, November 1st at the Dome as they take on the Southern New Hampshire Penmen at 7:00 PM. WAER will have the broadcast on 88.3 FM and streaming on WAER.org and our mobile app.