Things never get quiet this time of year. Just moments before addressing the media, Syracuse announced that Frank Howard is suspended indefinitely for a violation of an athletic department policy. Despite having a lot of other things on their minds, Jim Boeheim, Tyus Battle and Elijah Hughes all addressed a number of topics ahead of their opening round matchup with Baylor.
On Frank Howard’s Absence
Jim Boeheim: We had an indication that would be the case. We started the year without him at a point obviously. Very difficult to make that change now. Fortunately, Tyus has played the point quite a bit this year, even when Frank came back at Duke and several other spots along the way. Pittsburgh, Boston College, we did play Tyus at the point, so he’s been there. Jalen [Carey]’s had good practices. Everybody — it is very similar to last week when we found out Tyus wouldn’t play. I thought the players made a great adjustment. We played really well in both games in the tournament. And we’re going to have to make that same adjustment this week with a different guy going.
Elijah Hughes: We found out and can’t really do anything about it. We played without Tyus our entire ACC tournament. We have to pick it up a bit and that is what we have to try and do at the NCAA tournament.
Tyus Battle: We found out when you guys found out. The team picked up. They picked up their play when I was out. I mean, we have played without players before. Foul trouble, you have to play without players, injuries you have to play without players. If we play our game, we’ll be fine.
Analysis: If there’s anything we’ve learned about this Orange team, it’s that they’re a resilient group. Injuries have not been a factor over the last couple of seasons for Syracuse. Now, SU has been riddled with them at important times in the season. Syracuse played two outstanding games without Battle. Now they have to do the same without their senior leader.
Next Man Mentality
Battle: They have developed a lot throughout the season. Buddy — it is tough playing for your dad and everything else and coming to a prestigious club like Syracuse, I mean it’s a lot of pressure on him. I think he’s handled it great. And Jalen has been doing a great job as well. Playing hard in practice. When he gets in the games, he does a good job. This is a big stage for him. They’re good kids and they have worked really hard. They will be ready to play.
Hughes: Piggybacking what Tyus has said. Buddy is getting better and improving all year. Even on the defensive side of things, people gave him a lot of crap about before the season started, talking about he wouldn’t be good defensively, and he’s been doing good defensively over the last couple of games. Jalen has not had an opportunity this year, but he’s still been in good spirits, he is working, coming in practice early, he is getting better and I’m excited for those guys.
Analysis: Buddy Boeheim has been a revelation all season long. But Jalen Carey now becomes the most intriguing player on the roster. He did everything asked of him during the ACC Tournament when he came in and spot contributed. He’s been playing better as of late. We’ll see if he can have his one shining moment in the most important month of the season.
Challenge of Baylor
Boeheim: We played against some good rebounding teams this year. It’s always a problem. That is something, you know, you’re not going to be able to really do much about. You have to do — obviously, we need to do as good a job as we can on the boards. But they’re aggressive, they’re strong, they’re physical, they go after the ball. That is what good rebounding teams do. We have to do the very best job we can on the boards in those situations. But Baylor is a very good basketball team. They can score. They can rebound. They’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot threes. They’ve got inside presence. And that’s why they’re in this tournament.
Analysis: Syracuse has yet to lose when it outrebounds an opponent. The problem is, they don’t outrebound teams a lot. Baylor is great on the offensive glass, despite not possessing a lot of height. They get their rebounds with heart and grit. Can the Orange match that intensity for 40 minutes?
Both Teams Late Season Struggles
Boeheim: I don’t think so. I think you start out here and you’re ready to go. We lost. They lost to really good teams. We lost to three No. 1 seeds in the tournament. So, I guess they’re pretty good. That has, you know, nothing to do with what’s going to happen here tomorrow.
Analysis: It’s a new season for everyone. Whether you’re as hot as Duke, Oregon or Iowa State, or as cold as Syracuse and Baylor. All it takes is a couple good games in March to make some noise. Both of these teams were challenged down the stretch. Syracuse took on Duke, UNC and Virginia in the final weeks. Baylor drew Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State. These games may do more good than bad for these teams who are not nearly as good as the opponents they played down the stretch.