Syracuse’s season ended last night after a 78-69 loss to Baylor. Earlier in the week, I basically guaranteed an Orange victory. Baylor had lost four straight entering Thursday’s game and was without their leading scorer Tristan Clark. Furthermore, guard Makai Mason was battling a toe injury that I presumed would keep him at bay. But 22 points later from Mason along with Baylor shooting 47.1% from deep and Syracuse was sent packing. I was furious. I was mad at Frank Howard, mad at the lack of late offense from Syracuse, and mad at Jim Boeheim’s stubbornness. Writing a reaction piece at that time most likely would not have been a great look for me. It’s tough at times to be both an analyst and fan. Now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it, I figured it was time to evaluate the season Syracuse basketball had.
Even if it was slightly frustrating at times, there was a lot of good for Syracuse this season. For starters, they finished 10-8 and in 7th place of a very tough ACC. This also earned them a first-round bye for the first time in the ACC tournament. Some of those marquee wins came on the road against No. 1 Duke and a big home win over No. 18 Louisville. The Orange also won an ACC tournament game against Pitt and took a fully healthy Duke squad to the wire even without leading scorer Tyus Battle. Another positive was the 20-13 record the Orange had that finally allowed Syracuse fans to relax on a Selection Sunday with no worries about not making the Big Dance.
From a player standpoint, Syracuse has some things to look forward to next season. Tyus Battle declared for the NBA draft, and the Orange will certainly miss his 17.2 PPG. He was one of the most well-liked Syracuse players in the past decade, and Orangenation wishes him all the best at the next level. As for the returners, transfer Elijah Hughes had a big year averaging 13.7 PPG and shooting 36.7% from deep. His 25 points last night was one of the main reasons the Orange were even in the game. Oshae Brissett had a solid season, averaging 12.4 PPG and 7.5 RPG. It was a bit up-and-down for the Canadian sophomore, but as soon as he realizes how good he can be inside, it could be a scary good junior year if he chooses to stay. Another positive was the coach’s son Buddy Boeheim. He averaged just under 7 points a game but did not see major minutes until the tail end of the season. He had a big 20 points in Syracuse’s ACC tournament victory over Pitt. Orange fans should be excited about Boeheim going forward. He has proven that he a legit Division I basketball player.
The final good to point out is the Orange’s defense. Their length up top with Tyus Battle and Frank Howard led to 8.3 steals per game as a team. They also allowed just 65.7 PPG, which ranked 41st in the country. 4.8 blocks per game also put them at 20th in the nation.
Once again, the Orange struggled to score the basketball. They averaged just 69.7 PPG which ranked 257th out of 351 teams. Tyus Battle, Elijah Hughes, and Oshae Brissett were the only Orange players in double digits scoring wise. Depth was also an issue for Syracuse, as they only ran 6-7 players every night. The fatigue was seen last night down the stretch against Baylor. Freshman guard Jalen Carey did not develop as hoped and Marek Dolezaj still looked timid on the offensive end, although he was arguably the Orange’s strongest defender. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect for Syracuse was their failure to rebound defensively. You’d think at this point Jim Boeheim would realize that 7 footers with no muscle or rebounding abilities wouldn’t work as starting centers, but apparently not. Time and time again Paschal Chukwu was manhandled down low by shorter but stronger centers. The Orange need to go back to the Rick Jackson type of big man they used to pride themselves on. This also pairs with a lack of scoring from big men. It’s been a while since the Orange had a big man that could score with any decent post moves.
This may trigger some Syracuse fans, but Jim Boeheim needs to be less stubborn about the 2-3 zone. When it works, it’s awesome. But teams are starting to figure it out. And when Baylor is shooting that well from deep, you have to make adjustments. Instead, Syracuse allowed Baylor to keep firing away and inevitably beat them. If you have the athletes to play man, you have to revert to it when the zone isn’t working.
Finally, it wouldn’t be “the bad” without mentioning Frank Howard. The senior missed his final tournament game due to a failed drug test. As a senior leader, that is absolutely irresponsible. When the Orange needed Howard most, coming off a career-high 28 points against Duke, he let down the entire team and community.
The Orange have the 27th ranked recruiting class going into 2019, according to 247 Sports. This is a huge upgrade from 43rd last season. They are highlighted by four stars Brycen Goodine and Quincy Guerrier, plus exciting local guard Joe Girard III and Pennsylvania big man John Bol Ajak. This should be a much stronger class for the Orange in comparison to last season. Tyus Battle will be big shoes to fill, and the Orange also lose Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu, but Syracuse should have the people to fill these vacancies.
However, as a fanbase, there is a right to be frustrated. This was a team that was supposed to be a potential Final 4 team and they ended up an 8 seed with a first-round exit. There is hope for the future, but the Upstate New York community has a right to be frustrated with how this season ended.