After a very successful season, basketball returns for the Syracuse Orange. Last season saw a Cinderella Syracuse team fight its way through the NCAA Tournament all the way to the Final Four. Expectations for the team this year are incredibly high (#19 in preseason rankings- Associated Press), and here are a few reasons why I believe that the Orange can meet, and even exceed, those expectations.
After the loss of fifth year seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney many people believed that the Orange would lack in veteran leadership this season. However, Syracuse brought in a pair of graduate transfers in Andrew White III (SG) and John Gillon (PG) to add some experience. The sharpshooting White comes to Syracuse from Nebraska where he averaged 16.6 points per game while shooting over 41% from behind the arc. Along with White comes John Gillon from Colorado State. Last season for the Rams, Gillon averaged 13.2 and dished out nearly 4 assists per game. With these two additions and with the return of seniors DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson, the Orange will have a lot of experienced veterans leading this team.
For the last several seasons, the Orange have not been a very deep team. This was exemplified best last season when the team mostly ignored the bench, typically using only two people off the bench. This year is different, however. This season, for the first time in a long time, Syracuse has some depth. After losing Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson to the NBA and Trevor Cooney to the Spanish league, the Orange bring in six new faces. The previously mentioned graduate transfers are joined by freshmen Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson, Mathew Moyer and redshirt sophomore Paschal Chukwu. This influx of new players has led coach Jim Boeheim to refer to this team as one of the best and deepest teams that he has ever coached. With all these new additions, the Orange may use a ten person rotation this season.
Starting this season, Syracuse will no longer lack in height. The last few seasons, the Orange did not have a single player over 6’9” and no true center, forcing 6’8” Tyler Lydon to play a position in which he wasn’t familiar. The new players brought in for this season will change all of that. Paschal Chukwu, the redshirt sophomore transfer from Providence, will likely get a lot of time at the center position, finally giving the Orange a true center. Listed at 7’2”, Chukwu is officially the tallest player in Syracuse basketball history and looks to be one of the premier shot blockers in the country. Another key addition to the roster this season is freshman Taurean Thompson. Standing at 6’9”, Thompson will be a force down low for the Orange.
With the 19th ranked 2016 recruiting class (Rivals.com), Syracuse comes into this season with some excellent freshmen. This stellar freshman class is led by four star shooting guard Tyus Battle out of St. Joseph’s (Metuchen). Battle was named the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and First Team All-State in his senior season at St. Joseph’s where he led his team to the semifinals of the state tournament. He will be joined by forward Taurean Thompson out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire and Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year Mathew Moyer. The extremely athletic Battle will likely play the six-man role in the beginning of the season and may even crack the starting lineup before the end of the season. Both Thompson and Moyer are defensive specialists who will likely get significant minutes off the bench.
The Emergence of Tyler Lydon
At the beginning of last season, the expectations for freshman Tyler Lydon were relatively low. He was expected to play some quality minutes off the bench and make a modest contribution to the team. Lydon exceeded all expectations: he averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds, and nearly 2 blocks per game during the regular season while leading the team in three point percentage at just over 40%. However, Lydon really showcased his talents in the NCAA Tournament where he averaged 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. Over the offseason, Lydon hit the gym to work on his play down low, gaining approximately 20 pounds of muscle. Now not only will he be dangerous from behind the arc, he can score and defend down low with the best of them. If Lydon improves as much as he is expected, he and the Orange will be a very dangerous team.