Ahead of Miami’s Thursday night matchup with Syracuse, we caught up on the Orange’s season with James Szuba of nunesmagician.com:
Syracuse had a great finish last year making the Sweet 16. What were the expectations coming into this season?
Expectations were high for Syracuse coming into the season given all five starters returned including Tyus Battle, who tested the NBA waters but opted to come back for his junior year. Not only that, but Elijah Hughes became eligible after transferring from East Carolina and sitting out the 2017-18 year and Jim Boeheim said in the summer that he was one of the best scorers he had in recent memory. Jalen Carey also joined the fold as a top-50 recruit -- he’s a talented frosh from New York City. All that to say, Syracuse had returned every major contributor and added depth, hence the preseason top-25 ranking.
Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett were potential draft picks that decided to stay in school after last season. How did you feel about their decisions and do you think they’ve taken a step forward this year?
I think Tyus surprised a lot of people by coming back. Even though he was looking like a second round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, it’s surprising these days to see kids come back to school as most are eager to start their professional careers, wherever that may be. But Tyus loves Syracuse and was close to finishing his degree, so it made sense for him to come back. As for Oshae, it never even seemed like he considered leaving despite some thinking he’d be pick. He announced his return shortly after the season was over.
What supporting cast players have stepped up for Syracuse this season?
Elijah Hughes has to be first mentioned here. He’s stepped up big time and has helped carry the scoring load while emerging as Syracuse’s best option from three. Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu are starting to round into form after the former suffered a preseason ankle injury that kept him out two months while the latter lost his starting job but recently regained it after his 10 points and 18 rebounds against Duke. Marek Dolezaj has found ways to influence the game by being a glue guy and doing all the little things well.
The Orange are tied for second in the ACC right now, do you think they have a shot at the regular season title?
Syracuse has a punchers chance, but it’d be silly to bet against Duke or Virginia taking that honor home. I think a lot of things would have to go right for Syracuse, but they do have a win over Duke already. I just think the final stretch of games for the Orange will be tough. Crazier things, though.
What kind of game are you expecting on Thursday?
Let me start by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Miami play these last few years and while I know it’s been a tough year so far, Chris Lykes is one of my favorite players in the league. That said, I do think Syracuse is a much better team and expect the Orange to continue playing well in this one. I think Miami’s depth (or lack thereof) will be an issue down the stretch and I’m not sure the Hurricanes can stop Tyus Battle. I’ll say Syracuse wins by double digits here, but if Miami can make some deep shots it might find a way to keep things close.