Last season, when a Syracuse point guard dribbled toward the right wing for a handoff, Tyus Battle usually took the ball to attack left. But late in the first half Wednesday night in Syracuse’s 89-52 exhibition win over Le Moyne, Battle did the dribbling and handing off to Elijah Hughes, who pulled up to knock down a 3. Battle, after two exhibition games against Division II opponents as Syracuse’s point guard due to injury, is settling into his temporary role. He finished with five assists and no turnovers against Le Moyne.“I was low on turnovers, tried to find the open guy, tried to make the right play,” Battle said. “So I’m getting more comfortable with it as time goes on.”Battle, a 6-foot-6 junior, exemplifies the modern shooting guard. His size gives him the length he needs to blow by defenders with a quick, long first step. He operated most of last season, during which he averaged a team-leading 19.2 points per game, from the wings, where he could work off high screens to showcase the one-on-one ability that made him a near-NBA Draft pick.The former five-star recruit decided to come back to No. 16 Syracuse for his junior season. But he didn’t anticipate moving down from shooting guard to the point.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textA series of injuries set him up as the Orange’s point guard, at least for now, with returning starter Frank Howard, freshman Jalen Carey and sophomore Howard Washington all sidelined with injuries in varying degrees. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said Wednesday night that he’s “not a doctor,” and doesn’t know exactly when his point guards will return to game action. SU’s regular season starts Tuesday, Nov. 6.“We’ll see how the health of our point guards is over the next few days, but at least now we’ve had two games where we’ve played with Tyus handling the ball,” Boeheim said. “That’s good for us.”Because Syracuse’s offense a season ago centered on three players — Battle, Howard and forward Oshae Brissett — Battle did a lot of ball handling himself. But then, Battle knew Boeheim wanted him to score. He’d receive a down screen and attack the basket. In SU’s two exhibitions, though, Battle’s movement has been more side-to-side, drive and kick to Hughes, Buddy Boeheim or Brissett on a wing. After Wednesday’s win, Battle spoke about the importance of the point guard recognizing the hot hand, and Hughes’ 21, Brissett’s 14 and Buddy’s 13 were due in large part to Battle’s facilitation.“This year, other guys score the ball and any player can get going on any given night,” Battle said. “And when they get going, we want to give them the ball.”Position change is not foreign to Battle over his Syracuse career. A year ago, he bumped down to forward when Syracuse played its three-guard lineup, usually due to foul trouble with its bigs. That put Battle at the bottom of the zone on occasion and in somewhat awkward spots offensively, because he wasn’t where he’s used to being: up top, near or at the wings. Entering 2018, before SU’s point guard injuries, this much was clear: He thrives as a true shooting guard.Yet Battle’s progression in reading the floor from the point is encouraging, he said Wednesday. He said he’s seeing plays develop and is hitting players with passes he may not have made a year ago. He also said he’s more confident in his ball handling, which was suspect during his first two seasons at SU. His ball-handling development could make him more of a threat when he returns to his usual role.“He’s a pretty good ball handler,” Boeheim said. “It’s hard to make that switch, he’s always been a scoring guard. I think he’s done a good job of it but he’s still more of a scoring guard. I think the thing he did tonight, what he’s gotta do is get to the basket, that’s what he does best.”When Battle checked out with 8:36 to go on Wednesday, he sat down with Howard and Carey to his left on the SU bench. They laughed on and off for the rest of the game. Battle said that at that point, the guards weren’t talking about playing point, just “playing around.”But come next Tuesday, for Syracuse’s regular-season opener, one of those three will have to run the show. Published on October 31, 2018 at 10:36 pm Contact Matthew: email@example.com | @MatthewGut21 Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments
A quick glance at most NCAA Tournament bracket projections will show up to nine ACC teams and as many as eight schools from the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC expected to partake in March Madnessn this year. Far down the list of conferences is the Pac-12, with only two bids appearing likely, a power conference rarity. While the Pac-12 is still a power conference in name, the success of its basketball teams this season indicates it’s anything but right now. It hasn’t been considered the “best” conference in the sport in some time, but it’s having a year to forget — one that could result in the same or fewer NCAA Tournament bids than the American Athletic, Mountain West or Southern Conference. Where has it all gone wrong for the Pac-12 in 2018-19? Take a look at some of the factors to a lackluster basketball season:MORE: SN’s latest March Madness projectionsTraditional powers have struggledArizona, Oregon, and UCLA, teams that have been at the top of the conference at different times over the past five years, are all having down seasons, and none looks to have a shot at an at-large bid in the 2019 tournament. The conference’s NCAA Tournament hopes rest with regular season champion Washington (24-6, 15-2 in Pac-12), bubble team Arizona State (20-9, 11-6), and possibly a third team winning the conference tournament.Not exactly the outcome some predicted before the season.That paints a gloomy picture for the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament hopes this year — even worse than last season, when just three conference teams — Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA — made the tournament. The latter two lost in the First Four and the former was upset in the first round. If the conference secures only two bids to March Madness in 2019, it would be just the second time that has happened since the Pac-12 first fielded 12 teams in 2012. California and Colorado were the conference’s only bids that year, with regular-season champion Washington notably being left out.The struggles of the traditional powers this season have left a power vacuum in the Pac-12 — and no clear candidates to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Even Washington, under Pac-12 Coach of the Year Mike Hopkins, is only 2-4 in Quadrant 1 games. Hopkins’ 2-3 zone defense, which he adopted from Syracuse, has paid dividends, but the Huskies will need steady offensive contributions to make noise beyond the first round.Struggles in nonconference playBesides cannibalizing itself in conference play, Pac-12 teams have struggled mightily in nonconference games against schools from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East this season. Of course that all goes out the window in March Madness, but it’s not a good sign. The 12 schools were a measly 7-26 in nonconference play this year. Three of those wins have come from the Sun Devils, who have the most confounding resume in the conference.Although not to the same extreme as last year, Arizona State once again put together impressive nonconference wins at the start of the season (Mississippi State, Utah State, Kansas), before suffering some bad losses in Pac-12 play. With three Quadrant 1 wins and seven Quadrant 2 victories, its NCAA Tournament chances are in flux, even though it serves as the conference’s best hope for multiple bids.Top-flight freshmen have gone down to injuryInjuries to multiple freshmen who entered the year with high expectations have taken a lot of the shine off the conference as well. UCLA freshmen Tyger Campbell (torn ACL) and Shareef O’Neal (heart ailment) had their seasons come to an end before they could even take the court. Bol Bol, the No. 4 player in the 247Sports’ Composite rankings for 2018, averaged 21 points in nine games before having his season end prematurely with a foot injury. He is expected to enter the NBA Draft.And for those who would say no single player can make or break a team’s success … just look at Duke’s struggles since Zion Williamson was lost to injury in the North Carolina game.DeCOURCY: Washington’s Thybulle is a defensive virtuosoOff-court issuesThe biggest concern right now surrounding multiple coaches in the conference is the FBI scandal looming in the sport, which may impact Arizona coach Sean Miller — as well as USC coach Andy Enfield. The full extent of any punishment is unknown right now.It’s no secret that UCLA hasn’t been able to get its bearings this season, and a lot will hinge on who the Bruins hire to replace dismissed coach Steve Alford. Lakers coach Luke Walton and Nevada coach Eric Musselman are two potential candidates, but whoever is hired should have the pieces in place to return UCLA close to the caliber team it was as recently as two years ago.Hope for the futureWhether guards Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes stay or declare for the NBA Draft is a big question surrounding the Bruins, but regardless, all five members of UCLA’s 2018 recruiting class are expected to return, including Campbell and O’Neal. A group of six redshirt and true freshmen are averaging 39.5 points per game for the young Bruins, giving them a sign of optimism moving forward. Arizona — which lost its entire starting lineup from a year ago — will once again be restocking with its recruiting class, which is led by five-star players Nico Mannion and Josh Green. 247Sports has the Wildcats’ group, which also includes four-stars Zeke Nnaji, Terry Armstrong and Christian Koloko, as the top recruiting class in the country.Oregon will likely be getting freshmen Louis King and Will Richardson back, and the building blocks can pair with point guard Payton Pritchard and a promising recruiting class. USC is expected to bring in five-star recruits Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu, as well as two four-star prospects. Washington and Arizona State have a strong foundation in place that is ripe with potential. Not a lot has gone to plan in the conference this year, but the 2019-20 season may offer less-embarrassing results. There is hope for the Pac-12, even though results this season have been unkind. The conference needs it.