Before the season began, Syracuse was ranked as a top-20 team. A big reason was because SU returned all five starters, while adding transfer Elijah Hughes, and freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim. But as the season has progressed, it’s become clear that one key contributor from last year wouldn’t regain his form. That’s senior guard Frank Howard who’s averaging 8.4 points per game, which is six points lower than last year.
Even though Howard’s regressed, SU had a highly touted freshman point guard in Carey to pick up the slack if needed. But he hasn’t performed up to expectations either, as he seems paralyzed with the ball in his hands. Long gone are the early season games with Carey slashing his way to the hoop and sneaking into passing lanes to pick off passes. Those performances have been replaced with errant passes and dribbles off his foot.
So with no true point guard making an impact, Boeheim put Tyus Battle at the one. After Battle hoisted the Orange on his back and led them to victory against Duke at Cameron Indoor, Boeheim has given the junior more ball-handling responsibilities. Boeheim made the switch after a blowout 78-56 loss to Virginia Tech. In the next couple of games, Battle led the team to victories over Boston College and Pittsburgh. In the new role, the guard dished out 11 assists in the wins.
Limiting Howard’s playing time isn’t the only change Boeheim has made. Center Paschal Chukwu has seen his time on the court steadily diminish as Boeheim’s given Marek Dolezaj more time in the paint. Dolezaj isn’t the defensive presence that Chukwu is, but he’s not afraid to shoot the ball, and he’s the grittiest player on the team.
Dolezaj’s hustle is infectious, and can swing the momentum of a game. It happened in SU’s most recent contest against Louisville, where the Orange blew out the top-20 ranked Cardinals. He pulled down nine rebounds, forced a couple of jump balls, and kept Louisville on its toes all game long.
By taking Chukwu out of the lineup, SU loses its imposing presence down low. Dolezaj provides the hustle, but he can’t make up for Chukwu’s ability to alter shots on the block. So, Boeheim coupled Dolezaj with Oshae Brissett at power forward. Brissett brings muscle to the paint, but also has the athleticism to nab contested rebounds. In the last five games, Brissett snagged 49 rebounds.
The combination of Brissett and Dolezaj gives SU a defensive presence down low, while also providing scoring threats. Between Dolezaj’s hustle plays, and the rest of the lineups shooting touch from deep, Boeheim has assembled a 5-man crew that can get hot and swing momentum at any time.