Hey, gang. How’s it going? You look terrific, has anyone told you that lately? Anyway, let’s cut the chit chat and get down to brass tacks. Does anyone still use that phrase, by the way? Probably not. But we’re gonna bring it back… eventually. Now’s not the time, though. Get it together, man. We’ve got more important things to discuss. Syracuse things.
Like, for instance: what’s the rotation going to look like for Syracuse basketball next season? Obviously, we can’t say for sure, because none of us are Jim Boeheim. At least, I don’t think we are. Are we? Because that’d be pretty cool. If you’re reading this, Jim, I just want to let you know I think you should break out one of your old, plaid jackets just once next season, for shits and giggles.
Anyway, the lineup, or more accurately, the rotation.
Let’s start with a quick breakdown of the roster, shall we?
- GUARDS: Frank Howard / Tyus Battle / Geno Thorpe / Howard Washington
- FORWARDS: Taurean Thompson / Matthew Moyer / Oshae Brissett / Marek Dolezaj
- CENTERS: Paschal Chukwu / Bourama Sidibe
Obviously, there’s some flexibility in that bunch, with virtually every player on the roster – outside of Chukwu – able to play more than one spot on the floor. Every guard could play either the point or shooting guard position if needed, and Battle could spend time at small forward in a pinch. Thompson could play center (and likely will), while Moyer, Brissett, and Dolezaj could all play either forward position. And Sidibe could get time at power forward in addition to center.
That flexibility is good, in that it allows Boeheim to work with a lot of combinations, at least given the size of this year’s roster. Obviously, JB never goes 10-deep, and it’s highly unlikely that the end of the bench gets much run this year. Though, to be fair, considering how little is known about this year’s squad, and given the fact that it doesn’t (on paper) appear to be a “top heavy” team in terms of talent, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the rotation to go 8 or 9 players deep, rather than the usual 6 or 7.
So who’s going to be in the main rotation, and who could be left watching? What’s the starting five going to look like?
Well, Chester, I’m glad you asked. And if your name wasn’t Chester before… well, you’re shit out of luck, because it is now.
The guard positions seemed like a cut and dry pairing of Frank Howard and Tyus Battle before Geno Thorpe entered the mix. Howard’s shown flashes over his first two years, but some concerns have been raised about his attitude and impact on team chemistry, and his inconsistent play is a concern, as well. Obviously, we don’t know how valid any of the rumors about his off the court issues are, so we’ll set that aside for now. But we’ve seen Howard play for two years, and the inconsistency is very real, and had people nervous heading into the upcoming season until Thorpe joined the team.
There are two givens for this year’s team, and those are that Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson will be in the starting lineup. But will Howard run the point, or will he be supplanted by a graduate transfer for the second year in a row? Geno Thorpe is an intriguing option at the point, even though it’s not really his natural position.
In fact, Thorpe was playing more or less out of position last season at South Florida, but his size (6-foot-4) and defensive ability make him an enticing option at the top of the zone. Sure, Howard is just as long and athletic, but he’s shown some serious matador defensive effort at the top of the 2-3 at times. One thing we know for sure about Jim Boeheim is that if you can’t defend in the zone, your ass is going to spend a lot of time parked on the bench.
Prediction: Battle and Thorpe wind up the starting backcourt for Syracuse this season.
Now, let’s move on to the forwards. I’m going to go ahead and jump to the center position, because I don’t think either Chukwu or Sidibe wind up getting the nod in the middle. That’s going to go to Taurean Thompson, if you ask me. He’s got the size at 6-foot-10, and last year he proved he’s clearly not ready to play on the wing of the zone. Hell, he may not even be ready to man the middle, but Boeheim is going to need his scoring in the worst way, and for now, the center position seems to be the best way to get him on the court.
Prediction: Thompson starts at center for Syracuse this season.
That leaves us with the two forward spots, and with Thompson taken out of the equation, only three players to fill those two positions. Brissett, Moyer, and Dolezaj all bring different things to the table, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see any of them on the floor in a variety of combinations and roles. Moyer has been working hard on his skills to enable him to play small forward, but still projects to be more of a power forward for the time being. He’s aggressive around the hoop and in attacking the glass, and while his perimeter game is growing, he’s probably still a little behind both Brissett and Dolezaj.
Brissett, meanwhile, is more skilled than he gets credit for, with a fairly smooth handle and a prettier jumper than people realize. He’s not going to come in and be Tyler Lydon from deep, but he’s going to knock down his fair share of three pointers. Like Moyer, he’s an animal going at the glass and in attacking the rim, and the two players should complement each other well. It wouldn’t be the least big surprising to see them start at the two forward spots. Remember, Brissett was the Canadian National Player of the Year, and was only kept out of top 100 rankings by the likes of ESPN and Scout because he played in Canada (247Sports – which includes foreign prospects in its rankings – has Brissett in its top 50).
Dolezaj is the wildcard, given how little we know about him, and the fact that while he’s signed and fully expected to be on campus this fall, until it happens and he gets cleared by the NCAA, we can’t exactly count that chicken. He’s perhaps the most interesting player on the roster, however, with his size (6-foot-9), athleticism, and ball handling. He’s extremely skinny, but goes hard at the rim, and boasts some serious explosiveness. Dolezaj has typically hovered around 30% from deep, though it’s worth noting that the FIBA line he’s been shooting from is deeper than the NCAA 3-point arc, and indications are that Dolezaj’s jumper has been quickly improving.
Still, with so many question marks around Dolezaj, it’s tough to expect a lot early on.
Prediction: Brissett starts at small forward; Moyer starts at power forward.
So, our starting five looks like this, based on these projections:
PG: Geno Thorpe
SG: Tyus Battle
SF: Oshae Brissett
PF: Matthew Moyer
C: Taurean Thompson
That leaves a bench consisting of Frank Howard, Howard Washington (who, despite the fact that I like what he brings to the table, I expect to be the 9th or 10th player in the rotation this year), Paschal Chukwu, Marek Dolezaj, and Bourama Sidibe.
Frankly, I expect Sidibe to jump Chukwu in the rotation by the end of the year. Chukwu is a tantalizing prospect for Boeheim, no doubt, but even at 7-foot-2 you have to have at least some skill and knack for playing the sport, and even before his injury last year, Chukwu simply looked lost out there. Sidibe, meanwhile, is a player who could surprise people. As I mentioned above, I also expect Howard Washington to basically watch and learn for most of the year, before being thrust into a larger role in a year or two.
Frank Howard is, of course, the biggest question mark, while Dolezaj, as I mentioned, is the true wild card of the bunch. If Howard begins the season in the starting five and again loses his spot, will be go back into his shell and Boeheim’s doghouse? Will he surprise and hold off Thorpe for the starting point guard spot? We’ll simply have to wait and see.
It’s been a long time since Syracuse had so many question marks on its roster. That’s what happens when you only return four players who saw the court last season (and one redshirt freshman). We’ll see what happens, and hope like hell that things fall into place for the Orange to get back to the NCAA Tournament in the upcoming season.