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ACC Preview #11 - Syracuse

Boeheim’s bunch could be a real wild card in the ACC.

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Duke v Syracuse
SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils guards against a dribbling Tyus Battle #25 of the Syracuse Orange during the second half on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

A couple of years ago people were talking about the ACC with its four Hall of Fame coaches. Today though things are a bit different.

Rick Pitino was just forced out at Louisville following the Adidas/recruiting scandal - his third major scandal since 2009 (the Karen Sypher extortion scandal was in 2009 and the hooker/recruiting scandal in 2015).

Roy Williams, though not thought to be personally responsible for UNC’s scandal, is nonetheless the head coach and responsible for what happens in his program. The NCAA hammer is looming for UNC and we’ll see how things shake out for Williams and his reputation.

Jim Boeheim had 101 wins stripped from his record and was required to sit out nine games by the NCAA. He was also put on a three-year retirement plan by Syracuse and was supposed to be out in 2018.

That was then, this is now.

A.D. Mark Coyle is gone. Coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins took the Washington job, so he’s gone too. After he did, new A.D. John Widhack extended Boeheim’s contract. And not too long ago, son Buddy (2018) committed to play for Syracuse, so you can expect Boeheim to be around for a while longer.

Last year Syracuse finished an unsatisfying 19-15 and lost in the second round of the NIT to Ole Miss, 85-80.

From that team Boeheim loses Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, Dajuan Coleman, Andrew White and John Gillon. Taurean Thompson opted to transfer to Seton Hall, apparently because of an illness in his family.

Syracuse had a seven-man rotation at the end and that’s five of the seven gone. Most of them were expected. Roberson and Coleman were seniors. White and Gillon were grad students. Lydon was a guy who could’ve waited another year for the NBA but it wasn’t a bad decision. He went to the Utah Jazz at #24 and was subsequently traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Thompson’s transfer however is a real hit. He decided to transfer in late August, far too late to recruit a replacement.

Thompson pulled down 17.9 mpg and put up 9.2 ppg and 3.8 rpg. Syracuse was only going to return two starters and he was one (Tyus Battle being the other) so it hurts.

When it comes to meaningful players returning, the Orange have Battle, who should become a focal point this year, Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu. Matthew Moyer is also pretty good but missed the entire season last year due to injury. The 7-2 Chukwu missed most of the season after tearing a retina in December.

Once you get past those guys, no one got meaningful minutes so Syracuse is going to need some new guys to step into the rotation fast.

Syracuse brings in 6-3 grad student transfer Geno Thorpe, 6-6 ECU transfer Elijah Hughes, 6-3 Howard Washington, 6-8 Oshae Brissett, 6-9 Marek Dolezaj and 6-10 Bourama Sibide.

Thorpe had a solid year at South Florida for former Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, averaging 15.1 ppg and hitting 37% from three point range. He also averaged 4.6 apg. He’s experienced and should be ready to go.

Except to see a lot of Brishette. First he works hard on defense and can guard multiple positions. Second, he’s a legitimate NBA talent.

He’s still pretty skinny at 210 but time will help that. He has nearly a 7-0 wingspan and an 8-9 standing reach.

He’s highly athletic but still needs to develop his skill set. He’s said to be pretty predictable so that means guys will know how to guard him until he figures out some new stuff. As Bob McKillop likes to say, basketball is a game of deception and it’s hard to be deceptive with only a few tricks to turn to.

His shot isn’t yet consistent either.

Still, all that separates him from the NBA is a willingness to work hard and be honest about what he needs to do to improve.

Ready or not, Sibide is going to be critical for Syracuse. Chukwa is by far the most experienced big guy Syracuse has but who knows? He is 7-2 and that’s great especially in the 2-3, but he hasn’t had time to show a lot and a detached retina can be tricky later. We expect he’ll wear goggles to protect it.

If Chukwu can’t step up then Sibide is the logical alternative. Like Brishette, he’s still skinny - also 205 but three inches taller - so both of them are likely to take a beating for a while.

Not much you can do other than work hard in the weight room.

To listen to Howard Washington tell it, he’ll be the answer at point guard, as good as Tyler Ennis, and who are we to argue? He certainly has a better idea than we do.

Thing is, he’s not the only one to say that. His high school coach agrees:

"Tyler's a good comparison when it comes to that. Those guys aren't going to blow by you every time, but they change speeds really well, they're crafty, they get to spots. I think Howard does a really good job of when he gets going with the jumper he can really shoot it. He's great off ball screens. He'll make the right read off the ball screen 8 or 9 times out of 10. If you want a point guard with the way the game is going - a lot of ball screens, pick and roll - you gotta have a guard that can step back and shoot it. You gotta have a guard who can make the right read. And he can definitely do that."

And Washington said Boeheim himself called him “Tyler Ennis 2.0.”

He was only at Syracuse for a year but Ennis was brilliant. If they found someone that good again, look out because a great point guard will bring a team to a higher level. Everyone gets better with a guy like that. Everyone is more alert and unified. Everyone believes. That kind of leader is incredibly rare.

Syracuse went to Europe and came back with 6-9 Slovakian Marek Dolezaj. He’s a bit of a mystery since most people haven’t seen him play but a lot who have think he could be really good. If he’s a typical European player he has solid all around skills and range. He could be a reasonable approximation of Lydon but we won’t know until the season starts.

Finally, the 6-6 Hughes is a bit of a rarity transferring from ECU to Syracuse. However, he’s just a sophomore and was a late bloomer. He was a solid presence in the AAC for his one year and he’ll spend this year improving and getting ready to play next season. He’ll be valuable in practice while he waits and when he debuts next fall, with another season of maturation, he could have a big impact.

There are some really intriguing pieces on this team but way too many question marks for anyone to be certain. Will Chukwu come through? Will one of the freshman bigs? Is Washington really a latter day Ennis? What can Dolezaj offer? Can Thorpe play at an ACC level? Will Battle continue his arc of improvement?

Syracuse could finish anywhere from near the bottom to towards the top. It’s going to be impossible to understand until we see how the new guys work out.

However, Boeheim has been at it for a very long time and he usually manages to do pretty well. So don’t be shocked if he does again.

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