The 2017-2018 Syracuse team was about as far as you can get from the preceding year’s version while getting a fairly similar end result. Instead of a high-powered offense and a struggling defense, last year’s Orange used the opposite formula, ending the season as one of the tougher defensive teams in the nation, but also a group that struggled for long stretches on offense. That defensive-minded group ended the regular season with a similar record as the previous season, but unlike the offensive-minded bunch, were granted a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four.
That is when the Orange played arguably their best basketball of the season, putting together three tight wins, including a 55-53 upset of Michigan State to earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Duke was SU’s next opponent and the Blue Devils had enough to hold off Syracuse, 69-65, and end Syracuse’s season with a final record of 23-14.
The offseason was relatively quiet with the only true suspense coming when Tyus Battle declared for the NBA draft. Battle, however, did not sign with an agent and eventually opted to return to Syracuse. There was one departure from the roster, however, as Matthew Moyer, who became the odd man out of the lineup after suffering a midseason ankle injury, transferred to Vanderbilt.
Moyer’s departure, however, does not change the fact that the Orange return all five starters from those three NCAA Tourney wins. Battle, who fell just short of Preseason All-American First Team honors coming into this season, but did claim a nice consolation prize in First Team All-ACC honors, headlines this season’s squad.
Frank Howard will join Battle once more in the backcourt. Howard returns for his senior season after taking several steps forward on offense last season, particularly in his markedly better three-point shooting. Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj both return after impressive freshman seasons at the forward spots. They will flank Paschal Chukwu, the 7’2” center who is back as the man in the middle, anchoring the 2-3 zone.
Reserve center Bourama Sidibe has returned to health over the offseason and point guard Howard Washington continues to rehab the ACL injury that prematurely ended his freshman season. The other player returning on the roster from last year is Elijah Hughes, the East Carolina transfer who sat out last season. Hughes will be in the mix at forward when he debuts in orange.
Three freshmen join the squad, as well. Guard Jalen Carey is the top player in SU’s incoming class and looks to threaten the rotation from the start. Robert Braswell, an athletic forward with a solid perimeter shot, was a late addition to the class from South Carolina. And the most familiar addition to the program is Buddy Boeheim, the son of the head coach. A shooting guard, Boeheim’s top skill is his perimeter shooting, which may get him some playing time by adding an extra offensive dimension that often was missing last season.
All expectations are that this year’s version of the Orange will be a very strong defensive team like last year, when they finished fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency. There is also the expectation that the offense will be better, based on the same group of players improving both individually and as a unit, as well as the added influx of offense, particularly perimeter shooting, in the players who will debut this season.
As such, the Orange enter the campaign ranked #16 in the nation and were named fourth in the ACC preseason media poll. That #16 national ranking is fifth among ACC teams, as SU was just edged out by Virginia Tech, but solidly in front of Florida State. Neither preseason expectation is an especially lofty perch, but a fair one for a team that performed well last season as a young team in the NCAA Tournament with all its major pieces returning, as well as bolstered by an injection of talent.