The Syracuse Orange make their first appearance on the countdown today as scoring wing Elijah Hughes slots in as the last player before we get into the top 5.
A year ago, Hughes was not a player I anticipated having the impact in the league that he did in 2018-19. Having seen him play at East Carolina prior to transferring to Syracuse (I enjoyed watching BJ Tyson play basketball), he struck me as an athletic player who wasn’t incredibly efficient. A high flyer good for some Sportscenter top plays.
His first season in an Orange uniform however did not resemble the same player I saw at Greenville. Whether it was the development program of an ACC school, fit, or simply being the fourth option on offense with little to no pressure, Hughes excelled in his second season on the basketball court. He averaged 13.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in over 32 minutes per game as a redshirt sophomore, while seeing improvements in shooting percentages at all levels, efficiency rating and other metrics. He logged double figures in 25 of Syracuse’s 34 games and was one of only ten players in the league to play 1000 minutes and shoot 36% from deep, 74% from the line, and north of 54% in eFG%.
The biggest adjustment the 6’6 wing will be required to make this season is becoming “the man.” I asked Nunes Magician writer James Szuba if he thought Hughes would be ready for such a challenge on last weeks podcast. As Syracuse transitions from the Battle/Brissett/Howard era, Hughes will be looked upon to lead the youth movement currently taking place in upstate New York that includes highly regarded recruits Brycen Goodine and Canadian Quincy Guerrier along with local legend Joe Girard III.
My expectations for this year’s Syracuse team aren’t incredibly high, but if they are to make another run at a tournament birth this season, it will because Elijah Hughes realized his star potential and led them back to the dance.