If you look around the Syracuse basketball locker room, there are not a ton of familiar names left.
Paschal Chukwu and Frank Howard graduated. Tyus Battle left for the NBA draft, somewhat surprisingly followed by Oshae Brissett. Suddenly, Elijah Hughes finds himself as the lone returning starter on for a completely turned over Syracuse men’s basketball program.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Hughes was a relative unknown to the Orange faithful. He sat out the previous year after transferring from East Carolina. He was far from polished during his only season with the Pirates, but improved as the year went on.
For much of his first season in Central New York, he was relegated to a role player, mostly operating as a tertiary ball handler and spot up shooter. Among starters, he had the third highest usage rating, trailing Battle and Brissett.
Make no mistake, this is Elijah Hughes’ team now. That might be a very good thing for Syracuse. He has already shown the ability to take over games.
He posted a double-double vs. Notre Dame, dropped 22 points on Miami and stepped up with 25 points against Baylor.
Hughes led the Orange last year in 3-point attempts, taking 85 more shots from behind the arc than any other player on the team. He also hit 36.9 percent of them, best mark on the team of anyone who took at least 30 3-pointers.
He is a shot-making specialist, potentially even better than Battle was, with the ability to take over a game with this type of scoring.
Consistency will be crucial for Hughes to fulfill the role appropriately of all-around superstar. He went missing at times and at others, totally cold from the field.
It happens to the very best of players, but unfortunately for Hughes, Syracuse lacks the surrounding offense talent on paper to survive those types of performances.
Buddy Boeheim is the next-highest returning scorer after averaging just 6.8 points per game as a freshman. He will likely improve that mark with increased playing time heading into next season as a likely starter. He flashed potential of what he can be, dropping 35 points over two games during the ACC Tournament.
On the flip side, he failed to make a shot from the floor in Syracuse’s NCAA tournament game against Baylor. He is still young and needs a lot of development.
Outside of Boehiem, there is no one else on this team that even projects as a talented scorer. Marek Dolezaj thrives mostly on putbacks and layups, but does not have a post game.
Jalen Carry could not find his rhythm or his way onto the court for most of the year, shooting 18 percent from 3. Robert Braswell and Bourama Sidibe fill more defensive specialist roles.
There could be some hope in the incoming recruiting class. Brycen Goodine is a top-100 recruit with the potential to contribute right away as a scoring combo guard. Joe Girard is not as heavily touted recruiting wise, but he is the highest-scoring men’s high school player ever in the state of New York.
Beyond the offensive impact, Hughes will have to be a leader. No other returning player averaged more than 18 minutes per game. On a team lacking in college experience, (only Dolezaj and Sidibe have played more than one season of college ball) having a veteran anchor is crucial.
The expectations for Syracuse are much lower entering this season than they were returning almost the exact same roster from the year before. Given the team’s struggles, that might just be what the Orange needs.
A fresh start while relying on a proven scorer could be exactly what SU needs to get back to the national stage.