This season, Syracuse Men’s basketball didn’t start out so hot. An opening night loss to the defending champions in which the team scored 34 points, an amount they hadn’t finished a game with since 1945. Things didn’t look good and Orange fans weren’t too hopeful for what was to come. After the Orange strung a few wins together against the teams they were supposed to beat, their trip down to New York City for the Big 10/ACC challenge wasn’t exactly nice to them, a loss to Oklahoma State, Penn State, and Iowa all in a span of a week quickly crushed the spirit of the Orange faithful. Now, on January 28th, Syracuse stands at 13-7, with a conference record of 6-3, placing it 4th in the ACC. So what changed for the Orange this season?
Two Scoring Stars Emerged
Elijah Hughes went from 17 points every night out to nearly 20 here in January, which is good enough to lead the ACC. Having a guy like him on any team is crucial. When SU needs a bucket, Hughes is there to make a play. This kind of play from the ECU transfer was pretty much expected. Fans knew that with Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett gone, someone had to pick up the slack on the scoring end. What wasn’t expected, however, is the play of the coach’s son. Buddy Boeheim has been the most pleasant surprise for this SU squad. After last season in which he scored less than 7 a game, fans didn’t have too big of expectations, he came in this year and blew everyone out of the water. 16 PPG while shooting over 40% from distance, and leading the conference in made three-pointers. Boeheim has been an absolute stud for this SU offense, a piece that it wouldn’t get very far without.
Marek Dolezaj Might be the Most Unique Player in the Country
Marek Dolezaj is undeniably the most valuable player this team has. He doesn’t make the flashy plays or have the wildly impressive ability, rather he is able to do just about everything for Syracuse. He can score the ball, currently contributing over 10 points a night, he can rebound, consistently grabbing over 7 boards a game, he can pass, he’s found his teammates for points 3 times a game this season, and most of all he can play defense, recording over a steal and a block every game. It’s undeniable that Dolezaj is incredibly important to the success of this team. He’s seeing the most playing time he ever has in his third year at SU, he’s on the court 34 minutes a game. Without a strong big man on this roster, the Slovakian fits perfectly playing the 4 or 5, especially when Sidibe is in foul trouble or just plain ineffective.
The Orange has come a long way since a rocky start. A few surprises here and there has gotten them to this point. If they continue to grow and prove they have the talent necessary, an NCAA tournament birth is inevitable.