Primed to play, can SU men’s basketball make another magical run?

How will Syracuse men's basketball follow up last year's impressive run?

The Orange look to take the next step following a surprise run to the Sweet Sixteen last year. Here's what to look for this season.
Published: November 6, 2018 | Updated: November 9th, 2018 at 10:37 pm
Tyus Battle prepares to shoot a free throw during Syracuse's exhibition opener against St. Rose.
Tyus Battle prepares to shoot a free throw during Syracuse's exhibition opener against St. Rose.

Sweet Sixteen(th)

Syracuse University Men’s Basketball is just hours away from opening the 2018-2019 season and the hype around both the university and the Salt City is palpable. The Orange are coming off a surprise run through last year’s March Madness tournament – eventually falling to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. No longer and under the radar team, the Orange enter the season ranked sixteenth in the nation. With a ranking in the AP Top 25 comes heightened expectations and plenty of intrigue (read: drama).

Whether you’re a casual fan, an incoming freshman looking to jump in or an SU veteran with the color orange flowing through your veins, have no fear.

The NewsHouse is here to parse through some of the more alluring story-lines in this upcoming season ahead of the team’s opening game Tuesday in the Carrier Dome against the Eastern Washington Eagles.

The Starting Five

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the return of every member from last year’s starting five. Not many teams are fortunate enough to have a full group of starters return – let alone a group that had an inspiring run to the Sweet Sixteen.

Consisting of senior point guard Frank Howard, senior center Paschal Chukwu, junior shooting guard Tyus Battle, sophomore power forward Marek Dolezaj and sophomore small forward Oshae Brisset, this starting squad looks to capitalize on the strong showing they had last year.

The starting squad has a good mix of upper and underclassmen, meaning there’s a great deal of experience, but still plenty of room to grow.

Scoring by Committee

If you’re tuning in Tuesday night for high octane offense, you’ve come to the wrong place.

The Orange won’t set the world on fire on offense. The men’s team averaged about 67 points last year – 311 out of 351 in the nation – and struggled to find depth scoring from the bench.

However, that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

The team is driven by a three-pronged attack of Battle, Brisset, and Howard that are quite the formidable group.

Battle averaged 19.2 points per game last year – which placed him in the top 50 in terms of averaging scoring across the NCAA – while Brisset and Howard each chipped in just under 15 points each. Together, the trio accounted for almost a quarter of their team’s scoring last season.

Battle is a dominant player with the ball in his hand and provides plenty of creativity on offense. They don’t shoot lights out from three, but they do plenty of damage in tight.

If Brisset can take another step forward in his development and avoid a sophomore slump, and incoming freshman Buddy Boeheim (coach Jim Boeheim’s son) can provide lights-out shooting from beyond the arc coming off the bench, Syracuse could see a more productive season scoring-wise.

That being said, while the Orange can’t hold a candle to high powered offenses seen in schools like Villanova and Duke, they don’t have to. This team makes a living playing a tight, defensive system helmed by coach Jim Boeheim.

Elijah Hughes shoots a three-pointer during SU's pre-season win over St. Rose.
Elijah Hughes shoots a three-pointer during SU's pre-season win over St. Rose.

Defensive Dome

Syracuse is an elite defensive team that thrives within the confines of the raucous Carrier Dome.

Jim Boeheim’s team is fresh off a season in which they ranked top 10 in fewest points allowed, both overall and per game.

For veteran viewers, this isn’t anything new. Over the past 10 seasons, Boeheim’s teams have averaged just 64.3 points allowed per game. Coach B is the model of consistency and has his players buying into a staunch, impenetrable system.

Playing in Carrier Dome doesn’t hurt either.

The Orange lost only five games at home last year and held teams to just 60 points on average in front of the Syracuse faithful – 7 points less than they allowed in hostile territory.

In terms of a home court advantage, the Carrier Dome is right up there with Villanova’s Pavilion or Duke’s Cameron Stadium.

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A brief look at coach Boeheim's style by the numbers

Tuesday Night, and Beyond

Speaking of Duke, Syracuse will get two rematches with the Blue Devils this season – first on the road January 14 and then at home on February 23 – after they got bounced by them in the Sweet Sixteen last year.

Other marquee match-ups include games against eighth-ranked UNC February 26, fifth-ranked Virginia March 3, and an early season game against rival Georgetown on Dec. 8.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First thing’s first, Syracuse opens the season tonight in the Carrier Dome against the Eastern Washington Eagles, at 7 p.m. It’s the first match-up between the two schools.

The Eagles scored a surprising 74.8 points per game last year and were led by Ukranian guard Bogdan Bliznyuk. Now a senior, Bliznyuk may present a nice challenge for the Orange defense.

However, to call a spade a spade, the Eagles aren’t Duke. Coach Boeheim has to make sure his players respect the Eagles, while also flexing on them a bit. It’s about playing their game, not playing down to their opponent.

How to Watch

Fans can see their Orange at home for the first game of the season tonight. Check CarrierDome.com or Ticketmaster.com for available tickets.

Unfortunately, the home game against the Eagles will not be broadcast on television. It’s a bummer, but if you weren’t able to get tickets to the game, you can still watch.

The game will be live-streamed on ACC Network Extra which is available online through Watch ESPN or on the Watch ESPN App. All that’s needed is an ESPN account (free) and the information for your cable service provider.

And with that, you’re all set to join in another season of Syracuse men’s basketball.

Avatar for Michael Zawisza

is a master’s candidate of the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Newhouse, covering local sports and music in Syracuse.