With ACC Media Day in the rearview mirror and the start of the 2017-18 basketball season quickly approaching, it feels like it’s time to begin thinking about exactly what we should expect from the Syracuse Orange this year. The last few years, outside of a couple dramatic wins and an unexpected run to the Final Four, have been a little stressful and at times hard to watch. So what are we going to see this year?
The most important thing here is that we all have to be very honest and realistic with regard to this year’s team. There are so many new faces, and so many question marks that it’s virtually impossible to expect big things. If we’re being honest, the signs point to this being a year that’s going to have plenty of bumps in the road, with flashes of the future interspersed.
After all, there are exactly three players on this roster who saw action for the Orange last year: Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Paschal Chukwu. Chukwu, of course, missed most of the season with an eye injury and looked a little lost even before then, and Howard spent a good chunk of the year occupying Jim Boeheim’s doghouse.
That’s… that’s not a lot of returning experience, you guys. Yes, Geno Thorpe joins the mix and, as a fifth year senior, he has seen plenty of game action against some solid competition in his time at both Penn State and South Florida, but he’s also completely new to Syracuse and the 2-3 zone and will need a little time to adjust.
Matthew Moyer, on the other hand, has had a full year in Syracuse’s system and should know the ins and outs of the vaunted Syracuse zone by now, and while he’s reportedly in the best shape of his basketball life, he’s still gotten exactly zero minutes in actual, meaningful games to date.
There’s going to be a pretty substantial burden falling on the shoulders of Tyus Battle this year, as both the most talented player on the roster (though Oshae Brissett, over time, could wind up proving that assessment wrong in the long run) and the guy who has logged the most minutes in a Syracuse uniform. That’s true, by the way: Frank Howard has been at Syracuse a season longer, but Battle’s minutes last year (1,044) already easily surpass Howard’s total over the last two years (868).
So what should we reasonably expect this year, against what will no doubt prove to be a tough schedule? Maryland, Kansas, Connecticut, and at Georgetown in the non-conference portion, followed by what’s always a daunting ACC slate. That’s tough by any measure, particularly when you’re looking at such a young, inexperienced team.
Well, again, going back to the beginning here, the most important thing is to be honest with ourselves about this year’s team. Obviously, the players themselves will go into every game thinking they can – and will – win. That’s obviously unrealistic, and there will be nights when the Orange are going to be steep underdogs.
I’m generally an optimist when it comes to Syracuse sports, though this season I’m going in with a very basic attitude about this team: I want to watch them grow and develop, and see what the young guys can bring to the table. I’m embracing the old adage, “expect the worst and hope for the best.”
Obviously, I don’t really expect “the worst” because I’m still fully expecting this team to finish the season above .500, but you know what I mean. I’m keeping my preseason expectations low, and reminding myself that this is a season to build experience for guys like Brissett, and Moyer, and Bourama Sidibe, and Marek Dolezaj, and Howard Washington. It’s a year to hopefully get a jump in production and leadership from Frank Howard, and get any kind of positive development from Paschal Chukwu.
It’s a year to hopefully watch Tyus Battle blossom into the superstar we all know he can become, and almost certainly head off to the NBA (while secretly holding out hope he’ll decide he wants to stick around all four years so he can play with his kid brother, Khalif, but that’s obviously not realistic). It’s a year to see how quickly Geno Thorpe can adapt to Syracuse’s style (and the indications are that he’s far better suited to playing defense for Jim Boeheim than either John Gillon or Andrew White were last year).
To me, this year almost feels like a precursor to the 2018-19 season, when Jalen Carey, Darius Bazley, and Buddy Boeheim arrive. By then, the roster will feature plenty of seasoned veterans (by college basketball standards) and that influx of young talent will bolster what should be a solid and experienced lineup, and hopefully get back to being a top 25 team.
And it’d be nice if this year’s team surprised us all and came together even more quickly than any of us could have dreamed. Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe Oshae Brissett will be even better than I think (and if you’ve paid any attention, you know I think he’s going to be pretty damn special). Maybe Bourama Sidibe will grab hold of the center position and be far more ready to play than anyone could have imagined. Maybe Howard Washington will be that steady backup point guard we’ve been sorely lacking the last few years, and will be able to give the squad 10-15 minutes of smart decisions and solid shooting.
But those are all still pretty big question marks. The entire team is a giant question mark. And that, to me, indicates that the best thing we can do with regard to expectations is to just not have any. Just hope for some surprises, and watch our young guys develop and perhaps shock the world.
I think we’ll all have a lot less stress if we go into this thing without any firm ideas about what this team is, and set any expectations aside. We know there are going to be bumps and bruises, but we know we’re going to see a lot of promise as well.
And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to make any predictions. I hope this team wins 20 or more games and gets to the tournament, but I’m not going to go in expecting or demanding it, because I know we’ve got some high hurdles to clear given how young and inexperienced this roster is. I’m not going to set any expectations. I’m just going to head into the season curious and excited to see what these guys can do. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.