Heading into this year, Jim Boeheim’s squad had more unknowns to solve for than a Calculus book. After escaping Iona – yes, you read that correctly, Iona – on Tuesday night with a 71-62 win, the Orange now sits at 2-0 on the young season. Let’s take a look at some of the players and statistics that will be harbingers for how the season could unfold.
Any success this team has will start and end with Battle. Through two games the sophomore is averaging 23.0 PPG including a career-high 28 against the Gaels. Battle will be heavily depended on for his scoring prowess. Until some of his teammates emerge as consistent threats, he can’t afford to have an off-night.
As SU’s starting point guard, Howard is expected to get the offensive engine running smoothly while helping Battle shoulder some of the scoring load. The Maryland native is averaging 12.0 PPG and 4.0 APG. One thing Syracuse can’t afford from Howard is a 5-turnover game like he had against Iona once the competition level goes up as it surely will in ACC play.
Only everything is expected from the Canadian sensation who appears to be a classic Syracuse-style forward. The freshman has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. He had a rough shooting debut against Cornell – 3-of-13 – but still grabbed ten rebounds while finishing with 11 points for the double-double. Though his rebounds were down against Iona, Brissett scored 12 points and knocked down 2-of-5 three-pointers while logging 37 minutes. Brissett seems to have the skills and poise to emerge as Sundance to Battle’s Butch once the heart of league play arrives.
Defending the Perimeter
Syracuse’s most successful teams have always defended the three-point shot exceptionally well. With Howard and Battle, two taller guards, manning the top of the zone, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to make life difficult for opposing long-range shooters. Through two games teams have converted a mere 23.7-percent, 14-of-59, from beyond the arc.
It’s no secret that rebounding out of the 2-3-zone present an array of challenges as boxing out isn’t always that easy. So far, Syracuse has out-rebounded its opponents by a 75-51 margin. Or, by an average of 12 RPG. That will certainly be a much taller order when the Orange faces frontcourts manned by future NBA players.
Syracuse deploys the two-headed monster of Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe at center. With Battle and Brissett expected to do the heavy-lifting in the scoring column, rebounds and blocks are what’s needed most from the center position. The duo has combined for ten blocks and 25 boards while committing only seven fouls. Having these two stay on the floor to make opposing guards think twice about driving to the tin while doing their part to prevent teams from playing volleyball on the defensive glass will be vital to Syracuse’s defensive success.
Granted, Syracuse has only played two games. And given that it wasn’t against Duke and Kansas, all those stats have to be taken with a grain of salt. But as one of the least experienced teams in an unforgiving league, fans will be looking for any signs that might indicate what’s ahead once the calendar turns.