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Does Tyus Battle’s Return Make Syracuse a National Title Contender?

The Orange basketball team hosting Indiana at the Carrier Dome
Tyus Battle is coming back to the Carrier Dome for his junior season, hoping to lift Syracuse to heights not seen since Carmelo Anthony wowed the Orange faithful in 2003. Photo by Zibby42 (wikimedia commons) [CC License].
  • Tyus Battle has withdrawn from the 2018 NBA Draft and is returning to Syracuse.
  • The soon-to-be junior led the Orange in scoring and minutes last year.
  • Does Battle’s return make Syracuse a legitimate national championship contender?

Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange received an early Christmas present yesterday, shortly before the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

No, it wasn’t a surprise return of Rakeem Christmas for an unprecedented fifth season three years after turning pro. It was something even better: the return of leading scorer and offensive lynchpin Tyus Battle.

Battle was Mr. Everything for Syracuse last year, leading the Orange in scoring at 19.2 points per game while taking nearly 100 more field-goal attempts than any of his teammates. The offense stagnated when he was off the floor, something that Boeheim learned early, resulting in Battle averaging 39 minutes per game.

In case you’ve forgotten, college basketball games are only 40 minutes long.

Here’s is the full line for Battle’s two years, to date, at Syracuse.

2018 39.0 19.2 2.1 2.9 2.4 32.2%
2017 30.7 11.3 1.7 2.1 1.1 36.6%

Syracuse’s lack of depth was a big part of its lackluster regular season, which saw the team go 23-14 (8-10 ACC) and finish tied for 10th in the ACC.

But they showed how dangerous they could be on a game-by-game basis during March Madness, downing Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State before succumbing to Duke in the Sweet 16.

It was just the latest instance of a Jim Boeheim team overachieving in the NCAA Tournament.

With O’Shea Brissett and Frank Howard also returning, ‘Cuse will have all three of its leading scorers back. The addition of guard Jalen Carey (the no. 36 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, per ESPN) will help with backcourt depth (Battle should be able to rest for at least two minutes per game), while Boeheim’s patented zone defense will give the Orange a chance every single night (while simultaneously allowing weaker teams to hang around).

The last time we aggregated the 2019 March Madness futures from the top online betting sites, Syracuse was +7700 to win the national championship, which was only ninth-best among ACC teams.

Most sportsbooks have temporarily suspended NCAA Tournament futures betting, needing some time to analyze the ramifications of all the retuning/departing players.

However, BetOnline has its 2019 title futures available again, and has shortened Syracuse’s odds all the way to +4000.

Do not, I repeat, do not take that bet. Syracuse is not going to win the 2019 national championship. Betting on the Orange is a donation to your neighborhood sportsbook, and at +4000, it’s a generous one.

As the table below shows, one of the most common elements of championship teams is truly elite point guard play. Battle doesn’t provide that; Frank Howard doesn’t provide that; Jalen Carey won’t provide that as a freshman.

2018 Villanova Jalen Brunson 18.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.8 TOV; 40.8 3P%; National Player of the Year.
2017 North Carolina Joel Berry 14.7 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.9 TOV; Final Four MOP
2016 Villanova Ryan Arcidiacono 12.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 39.4 3P%; NCAA Tournament MOP
2015 Duke Quinn Cook 15.3 PPG, 2.6 APG, 39.5 3P%; undrafted
2014 Connecticut Shabazz Napier 18.0 PPG, 4.9 APG, 40.5 3P%; 24th overall pick;
Final Four MOP; 1st Team All-American
2013 Louisville Peyton Siva 10.0 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.7 TOV; 56th overall pick
2012 Kentucky Marquis Teague 10.0 PPG, 4.8 APG, 2.7 TOV; 29th overall pick
2011 Connecticut Kemba Walker 1st Team All-American; 9th overall pick; 2x NBA All-Star
2010 Duke Jon Scheyer 18.2 PPG, 4.9 AGP, 1.6 TOV; 2nd Team All-American
2009 North Carolina Ty Lawson 16.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, 1.9 APG; 18th overall pick; 2nd Team All-American
2008 Kansas Mario Chalmers 12.8 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.5 TOV, 46.8 3P%; 34th overall pick;
NCAA Tournament MOP

Battle was projected as a second-round pick instead of a first-round pick, in part, because of his inability to facilitate for his teammates. He’ll be working on becoming a better distributor this year in order to boost his draft stock, but it’s not something that comes terribly naturally to the score-first combo guard, who averaged more turnovers than assists last season.

Of course, it is possible to win a national title with merely a really good point guard in lieu of a phenomenal one, as long as you have the other pieces in place.

The “worst” point guards on the list above are probably Cook, Arcidiacono, and Teague, and all three of them were surrounded by an embarrassing amount of talent.

Cook was flanked by Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, not to mention a then-freshman Grayson Allen.

“Arch” had 1st Team All-American Josh Hart to share the load, along with Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

As for Teague, he was running with second-overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist … oh and that big dude with a unibrow who went first overall. (I don’t follow the NBA as closely as college. Did he turn out to be good?)

Without an elite distributor … [Syracuse] has a ceiling, and it’s well short of national champion.

While O’Shea Brissett is a future pro, this year’s Syracuse team doesn’t have the Anthony Davis-level (or even Jahlil Okafor-level) talent to makeup for shortcomings at point guard. Without an elite distributor to run the offense, Boeheim’s crew will only row so far up the torrent of March Madness.

If there was a wager on making the Sweet 16 or outperforming your seed line, Syracuse would be great value. But this team has a ceiling, and it’s well short of national champion.

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth, a lawyer in his capricious mid-20s, and has been SBD's lead oddsmaker/number cruncher since 2014. He writes about everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are football, baseball, hockey and basketball (in that order).