Following Taurean Thompson’s transfer to Seton Hall, the Syracuse men’s basketball team will enter 2017-2018 with just 108 total minutes of front line experience in an Orange uniform.
Coach Jim Boeheim will face a choice: spread the open forward minutes between two true freshmen and redshirt freshman Matt Moyer or pull star shooting guard Tyus Battle out of position down to the wings of the zone.
At 6’8 and 6’9, true freshmen Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj have the length to patrol the baseline effectively. But with Dolezaj weighing in at just 180 pounds, his frame may not be ready to handle the large bodies he will face in the ACC.
An added wrinkle is that each of the last two seasons Boeheim has opted to move forwards like Tyler Lydon and Thompson to the middle of the zone due the ineffectiveness of his true centers.
This season, the Orange’s true centers include junior Paschal Chukwu, who struggled last season and played just seven games following an eye injury, and freshman Bourama Sidibe, who weighs just 205 pounds and may also struggle with heavier opponents.
As a result, Boehiem will increasingly be tempted to go with option two: play Battle at the 3 alongside some combination of Frank Howard, graduate transfer Geno Thorpe, and freshman point guard Howard Washington.
You have to go back to the 2009-2010 season to find a three-guard lineup employed by Boeheim that consisted of three “true” guards. According to KenPom.com, the trio of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Andy Rautins shared the court about 4.2 percent of the time by the end of the year.
But with Battle measuring 6’6 and a muscular 205 pounds, Syracuse would sacrifice little size playing him with Thorpe and Howard. Malachi Richardson, who regularly played the wing in SU’s zone two seasons ago, had the same measurements as Battle and actually weighed 5 pounds less at the NBA Draft Combine.
The combination of Richardson, Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney is likely the closest parallel in recent Syracuse history to the combination of Battle, Thorpe and Howard. According to KenPom, that trio most frequently played with Tyler Roberson and Lydon. If Sidibe and Chukwu struggle, Boeheim may complete the parallel by moving Moyer to center with Brissett or Dolezaj on the other wing.
But Richardson played “just” 34 minutes per game in his lone seasons in Orange. Each of the last four years, Boeheim has asked one of his top players to play at least 37 minutes per game, often more in ACC play.
Will Battle’s body hold up if he has to play nearly 40 minutes per game with some of it banging bodies with forwards in the zone?
Out of necessity, we will almost certainly find out.
My prediction is that Battle plays 15 minutes per game at small forward and 20-25 at shooting guard. The real split of his playing time will depend on how well Chukwu, Moyer and Sidibe perform.