Well, don’t think anyone saw this one coming.
BREAKING: #Syracuse senior Frank Howard is OUT for “an indefinite period of time” due to a violation of athletic department policy.
No idea whether the PG play at all in his last NCAA Tournament. Right after a career-high 28 points vs. Duke.
— Orange Fizz (@OrangeFizz) March 20, 2019
When news broke that Frank Howard would be suspended indefinitely on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, a lot of Syracuse fans probably had some pretty nasty cases of déjà vu. Some might have gone back to 2012 when Fab Melo was suspended for the Big Dance after an academic violation, but even without their starting center, the Orange still went all the way to the Elite Eight.
Others may flashback to 2005 when Dayshawn Wright and Josh Wright were suspended for the Orange’s tournament game against Vermont. Unlike 2012, the first go-around with suspended players ended in heartbreaking 60-57 loss to the Catamounts.
Any way you look at it, the memories attached to Orange players being suspended right before the NCAA Tournament are not good ones for Syracuse fans, so it makes sense that some fans are at least a little bit worried about not having the senior point guard. Some might even be really nervous. But really, there’s no need to panic about Howard’s absence.
First and foremost, Tyus Battle is back. Yes, Howard played well in Battle’s absence in the ACC Tournament, but the fact that by far your best and most talented player is going to be back in the starting lineup softens the blow of missing out on Howard’s hot hand.
And it doesn’t just make it easier on the Orange because Battle’s scoring production is back and can more than up for Frank’s, but this also gives Syracuse a reliable ballhandler. After a rough start to the season playing at the one, Battle became a legitimate threat as Syracuse’s quasi-floor general as ACC play got going. Not only was he keeping up with the scoring that SU desperately needs from him, but he was also distributing the ball at very high level.
Perhaps his most productive game of the season came when Howard played just 27 minutes against Miami and Battle put in 10 points, dished out a career-high 9 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds. Needless to say, Battle should be more than sufficient as the primary ballhandler on Thursday night.
So Battle will likely function as the starting point guard when Jim Boeheim sends his starting five to the floor on Thursday night, but we all know that he’s is much more dangerous if he can go off the ball and that’s an opportunity that Boeheim will almost undoubtedly look to create throughout the game. You won’t be able to do that when Buddy Boeheim’s on the floor as the likely fifth starter, but you can do it when another guard gets into the game. That’s where Jalen Carey comes in.
The freshman has not lived up to the lofty expectations that being rated as a top-40 prospect carries with it, but a lot of that is because he simply hasn’t had the opportunity. He’s only averaging 13 minutes per game across 24 contests this season and that number is a bit skewed considering he hasn’t played double-digit minutes since mid-January in that ugly loss to Georgia Tech.
However, when he has seen the floor this season, he’s shown some flashes of brilliance. He scored in double figures in back-to-back games at Madison Square Garden, including an incredibly impressive career-high 26 against UConn in the first game of the trip. If you can get even a sliver of that production out of Carey in the NCAA Tournament, that’s almost like an added bonus for SU.
He’ll have to keep his turnover numbers down to make sure he can stay on the court but bringing him into the game takes Tyus off the ball and puts the Orange in a position to hit Baylor with a potentially potent 1-2 punch at the guard spots. Jim Boeheim has also said that Carey has been having some of his best practices of the season over the last couple of weeks, so that’s a great sign.
Syracuse knows what it’s like to play against elite level competition without a starting guard that’s crucial for the team’s success. They did it in the ACC Tournament without Tyus Battle and they hung around with the big, bad Duke Blue Devils. Battle is far more important to the team’s success than Frank Howard is and although it’s certainly not a change SU was hoping for, the Orange have the pieces in place to weather the storm without Howard leading the way.