It’s probably safe to say Duke fans aren’t typically jealous of Syracuse, but this year, Duke has five new starters again while the Orange has all five back: Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu.
It’s a uniquely Syracuse lineup.
Battle is an NBA prospect and Brisett probably is too. We’re not sure Howard is and other than being 7-2, Chukwu hasn’t shown any particular signs of being NBA ready.
It’s still too early to say for sure about Dolezaj who is 6-10 and just 180 as a freshman. Weight looks like it will be a struggle for him: he grew an inch over the summer and actually lost weight after the season. Even so, he can and should still be stronger.
And while his skills are pretty good he was deferential as a freshman, in a new country where he didn’t speak the language very well, adapting to a different style of basketball.
He showed some real signs though and we expect he’ll be much better this season. His stats were modest but clearly the guy can play.
Chukwu’s role is much more narrow.
He is not an offensive factor and while he averaged 6.8 rpg he’s not a particularly effective rebounder either.
He’s a gangly 7-2 and has limited use. However he has one use that makes him a potent force for Jim Boeheim’s Orange: he can anchor the defense and in the back of that 2-3 zone he’s great at protecting the rim.
Like Leonard Hamilton, Boeheim always has use for a big guy with long arms. And it’s not just blocks, it’s suppression: Chukwu can keep the percentages down and persuade guys not to drive. Add him to Dolezaj and Brissett and the front line in the 2-3 is very imposing.
Barrett really impressed us as a freshman. He is yet another kid out of the Toronto area who has come south (although in his case not that far south) to improve and market his game.
He’s 6-8 and averaged close to a double-double last season with 14.9 mpg and 8.8 rpg. You got the sense last year that he could be much, much better than he showed. Look for him to become a player that Syracuse - and defenders - will focus on.
The main focus is likely to be junior Battle though. At 6-6, he’s an offensive force who averaged 19.2 ppg last season. Last year he was the indispensable man for Syracuse who basically never came off the court. He averaged 39 mpg.
He’s a legitimate NBA and all-ACC and possibly All-America prospect.
Howard rounds out the starters at point guard. Like Battle he’s tall, 6-5 and he averaged 14.4 ppg last season, giving Syracuse about 35 points out of the backcourt. He’s also a senior and a senior point guard is a huge asset in today’s game. And like Howard, he pulled heavy minutes at 38.4 mpg (Brissett averaged 38.1)
On the negative side though Howard has been wearing a boot lately and that’s obviously limiting. However, Boeheim expects him to be up to speed soon.
So that gives him what he covets for his 2-3 zone: five very long guys. The distance between their fingertips won’t be that much and really limits operating room for opponents. Getting inside it won’t be easy.
This season Syracuse will go 7-2, 6-10, 6-8, 6-6 and 6-5. That’s going to make the zone highly effective.
Offensively, the Orange has at least three really good options in Battle, Brissett and Howard and possibly an emerging star in Dolejaz. He might be a significant scoring threat but is equally likely to be a point forward if not a stretch four. They can work with whatever he provides since the other three are potent offensively.
What about the bench?
The first option may be Elijah Hughes, a transfer from East Carolina. A 6-6 sophomore, Hughes had some good games at ECU where, you may understand, he had little help. He’ll have a good bit more with the Orange which should magnify his own abilities. At a minimum, he should be able to help cut Battle’s minutes back a bit.
Bourama Side is a 6-10 sophomore who should be a capable backup for Chukwu and like Chuwku is a native of Africa (Side is from Mali while Chukwu is from Nigeria).
Matthew Moyer might have moved into a bigger role but he transferred to Vanderbilt.
Syracuse also brings in a nice freshman class.
Jalen Carey, a 6-3 freshman out of Montclair, New Jersey, has been filling in when Howard couldn’t/can't go due to injury so he’s probably ahead of the curve a bit. He’ll be the backup point guard for now.
Robert Braswell is a 6-8 forward from South Carolina but only lately. His mom is in the military and he learned his game in Europe so he’s not a normal American player. He has range and can pass and in general has a Euro flair to his game - and impressive athleticism.
He’s very lean at 184 but promising.
The third meaningful freshman is a familiar name: Buddy Boeheim.
His dad is a university employee so Syracuse doesn’t have to burn a scholarship on Buddy who we presume is officially a walk-on and he’s not on many lists of top players. But the kid can really shoot it. He’s also 6-5 and his brother is 6-8 so he may grow some more. And he is a coach’s son, so he’s been around the game his entire life.
He’ll also almost certainly be a four-year player so get used to seeing him.
In short, after a couple of erratic years, Syracuse has proven players and promising newcomers. Boeheim’s style is somewhat stodgy and by today’s standards a bit unconventional or even archaic.
It’s still effective though and you can expect the Orange to make a substantial improvement this season. If things go well, Syracuse will be in the hunt nationally.