After the announcement by Matthew Moyer of his intention to transfer from Syracuse University, the Orange basketball roster for next year is beginning to finalize. Obviously, there are still some moving pieces, but will that stop me from looking ahead at what the rotation could look like? Of course not.
With Moyer removed from the equation, Syracuse is down to 10 scholarship players currently set to return, though obviously Tyus Battle’s status remains up in the air. Personally, I’d be pretty surprised if the rising junior returns, which I’ve covered previously. And as I’ve said before, I do fully expect Oshae Brissett to return (though you can never rule anything out, I guess).
You also have to factor in Buddy Boeheim, who won’t take up a scholarship but will likely be more than capable of giving the Orange some minutes as a freshman next season.
So for now, let’s go ahead and remove Battle from the rotation on the heels of losing Moyer. That puts Syracuse at 10 players, including nine scholarship players, to work with next season:
G: Frank Howard, Howard Washington, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim
G/F: Elijah Hughes
F: Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Darius Bazley
C: Paschal Chukwu, Bourama Sidibe
That’s an interesting group of players to work with, and a group that should be better equipped to put the ball in the basket even with the likely loss of Tyus Battle to the pro ranks. Word has trickled out that Hughes has looked very good in practice, and he’s physically capable of playing either the shooting guard or small forward positions, giving the team some added versatility.
And that versatility is a good thing, given the fact that with Frank Howard, returning, Jim Boeheim still needs to find a way to get Jalen Carey on the floor. I’m extremely high on Carey, a 6-foot-3 scorer who can play either guard position. He’s smooth, he can score at all three levels, and he’s a terrific athlete. Considering the fact that the coaching staff apparently views him as a potential one-and-done caliber talent, we’re obviously going to be seeing a lot of him next season.
Of course, Hughes and Carey are what make the potential starting five so tough to pin down for next year, considering the forward and center spots are pretty much locked into place. It’s virtually impossible to imagine that Paschal Chukwu won’t be back in the middle as the team’s starting center, and Oshae Brissett certainly isn’t losing his starting role anytime soon. Darius Bazley, a McDonald’s All-American and another potential one-and-done who is considered a top 10 prospect in the class of 2018, is not going to be coming off the bench.
That leaves Marek Dolezaj as the odd man out in the forward rotation, though he’ll still be able to get plenty of minutes. We may even see some stretches with all three forwards on the floor, which would make for a dynamic group offensively but could pose a problem on defense given how slight both Dolezaj and Bazley are.
Frank Howard is, at this stage in his career as a rising senior who averaged 14.4 points and 4.7 assists-per-game in 2017-18, not going to be removed from the starting lineup. I know that Howard frustrates a lot of fans with some of his decisions, but that’s the reality. Jim Boeheim isn’t going to bench a returning senior starter who at times carried the Orange offensively this past season. It’s just not going to happen, so go ahead and banish the thought from your mind now and save yourself the frustration later (if you’re one of the people who is in the camp hoping his job is usurped).
So we’ve basically got four of the five starting spots locked down:
PG: Frank Howard
SF: Oshae Brissett
PF: Darius Bazley
C: Paschal Chukwu
So where does Jim Boeheim turn to fill the starting shooting guard role? Both Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey are intriguing options. Hughes, from a physical standpoint, is going to be awfully tempting to utilize at the top of the 2-3 zone. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, he’s a strong, athletic player who can score the basketball. I’ve talked in the past about Hughes and how you shouldn’t let his freshman numbers at East Carolina fool you, but just to reiterate: don’t let his shooting numbers fool you. Hughes was a good shooter in high school, he’s got a really nice looking shooting stroke, and sometimes kids struggle to transition to the college game in that first year.
The word coming out of practice is that Hughes has more than held his own going head to head with Tyus Battle this year, and that he’s looked like the best shooter on the team. Given the fact this will be his third year removed from high school, as well, and the physical maturity and familiarity with Syracuse’s system would seem to give him an edge toward finding himself in the starting lineup.
But it’s also hard to deny the fact that Carey is one of the more talented guard prospects Syracuse has brought in recently. He was my favorite guard prospect that Syracuse pursued this past recruiting cycle, so you know I’m excited to see what he can do in orange.
Still, I have to imagine that, at least at the beginning of the season, the experience that Hughes possesses, as well as the year he’s had learning the nuances of the zone, will give Elijah the leg up on cracking the starting five. Remember, both Dion Waiters and Michael Carter-Williams came off the bench as freshmen, too (and in Dion’s case, as a sophomore as well). So there’s precedent telling us that Carey will do the same.
So with that in mind, here’s how I’m pegging our starting five next season:
PG: Frank Howard
SG: Elijah Hughes
SF: Oshae Brissett
PF: Darius Bazley
C: Paschal Chukwu
Marek Dolezaj and Jalen Carey will be the first two players off the bench in most cases (unless Chukwu gets into early foul trouble, in which case Bourama Sidibe – hopefully fully recovered from his offseason surgery and back to 100% – would be). Whether Dolezaj or Carey is the sixth man probably depends on the matchup and the situation, but those are two very talented players to be able to bring in. The drop off in production will be minimal, and when you throw in Sidibe, this has the potential to be one of the most talented bench units Syracuse has had in recent years.
The Orange will be a legitimate 8-deep, and we still haven’t gotten to Howard Washington or Buddy Boeheim. Now, the situation with Washington is interesting, simply because he’s obviously still recovering from a torn ACL. That takes a lot of time, and I wonder if he’ll even be fully recovered by the time practice begins in the fall. If he’s not completely ready to go, I don’t see any way that Washington doesn’t at least begin the year as the 10th man, simply due to the unfortunate timing of his injury and the lengthy recovery process.
Which brings us to Buddy Boeheim.
He’s another player I’ve talked about at length, and whose future excites me. At 6-foot-5 (and he may still be growing, considering his brother Jimmy is 6-foot-8) he offers good size for the shooting guard position, and he’s one of the best shooters in the class of 2018. I’ve seen people mention that he might be able to give the Orange some minutes at small forward, but unless he does experience a growth spurt, I just can’t imagine that happening, except out of necessity.
I’ve also seen people making the assumption that Buddy is here only because of his last name. That’s false. Make no mistake: the kid can play. You don’t average double-digits and shoot 48% from three on the EYBL circuit, let alone earn Second Team All-NEPSAC (the best high school league in America) if you can’t play ball. There’s a role for Buddy Boeheim on next year’s team; it just remains to be seen exactly how large a role it’ll be. Buddy likely won’t average more than 10 minutes-per-game, but he’s going to be one heck of a player over the course of his career. I’d put an ample amount of money on that.
Of course, all of these projections can go flying out the window if Tyus Battle surprises everyone and decides to return to Syracuse. That’d be a great problem to have, of course, considering it would give Syracuse a second unit that included Jalen Carey, Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe, and either Buddy Boeheim or Howard Washington.
Yeah, it’s early to speculate on next year’s roster when this year’s roster isn’t even finalized. Hell, the Orange may add someone late (though if we use a scholarship, I’d almost prefer we go the traditional transfer route, a la Hughes, given how many open spots we’ll likely have for the 2019 class). But I do enjoy speculating. What the hell else am I going to do, actual work?