2016 was a roller coaster of a year for Syracuse basketball. It began with a 64-51 loss to Pittsburgh, the second of four consecutive losses to open the ACC slate. The Orange’s season realistically should have ended in early March, when another loss to those Panthers eliminated SU in the first round of the conference tournament. Instead, the campaign concluded in April, after Jim Boeheim’s team had rolled all the way to the Final Four. It looked like that peak would stretch across the offseason and into the current season, but the final month of 2016 brought an abysmal cold spell that left Syracuse in a tailspin as it enters ACC play.
With another year in the rearview mirror, let’s take the cheesiest trope in sportswriting and apply it to SU basketball. That’s right — it’s time for some New Year’s resolutions!
Fan the Flame Named Tyler Lydon
The silver lining hidden in the Orange’s horrific recent performance has been Tyler Lydon’s scorching stretch. After his freshman season, the forward was lauded as one of the nation’s best players and projected as a potential lottery pick — which made his cold start to the campaign extremely disappointing. Lydon averaged less than 10 points (on 38.5 percent shooting) through Syracuse’s first eight games, but he’s now cracked double-figures five times in a row, and has shot 31-of-58 from the field (including 11-of-20 from beyond the arc) during that stretch. If he stays hot — a big if, as he’s been inconsistent throughout his college career — SU’s offense should begin to click, especially if he plays more center.
Discover What They Have in Taurean Thompson
One reason why Lydon’s strong play is encouraging is because he’s performing alongside a guy who can provide the Orange with a lethal pair of twin towers. Taurean Thompson was arguably the least-heralded of Syracuse’s three incoming freshmen (due in part to his absurdly-late commitment), but he’s been inarguably the most impressive. The 6-foot-10 forward has exhibited an impressive, multifaceted skillset, featuring a jump shot that (unexpectedly) stretches out to three-point land. The combination of Lydon and Thompson could wreak havoc on the ACC — if the freshman’s hot start isn’t a mirage.
Find Out What’s Plaguing Andrew White III
Andrew White III appeared to be Michael Gbinije, 2.0: a model of consistency primed to lead Syracuse as the team’s offensive rock. He reached double-digit scoring in each of his first 11 games wearing Orange before pouring in a whopping two points in the hideous loss to St. John’s. The raw totals look nice, but they mask an ugly efficiency deficiency (patent pending on that term): White has connected on just 33.3 percent of his field goal attempts since the UConn game. With Lydon scoring so well, SU doesn’t need White to light up the scoreboard every night — but in a backcourt that lacks a reliable offensive threat, it would help if White can put the biscuit in the basket at a high rate.
Hope a Reliable Point Guard Emerges
It doesn’t matter if Lydon, Thompson, and White are shooting the lights out if Syracuse can’t find a point guard to get the ball in their hands every night. Frank Howard and John Gillon have each flashed terrific playmaking chops, but their issue has been consistency. One (or both) needs to step up and grab the keys to the offense, because it’s difficult to score against good teams without a dependable floor general.
Make the Tournament
And win the whole damn thing.