SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — One of the most serious penalties imposed on Syracuse by the NCAA was taking away three scholarships a year for four years. The sanction, one of several handed down after an after an eight-year investigation into the school’s athletic department, is a severe blow to the Orange’s ability to compete at the top of the acc. To make up for the scholarship reductions, Syracuse must maximize the roster spots available to it.
Which helps to explain why Tyus Battle is so important to the Orange’s future. A 6'6", 205-pound senior at St Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J., Battle verbally committed to Syracuse last July after decommitting from Michigan the previous month and taking an official visit to Syracuse. Battle told SI.com at the Hoophall Classic that he reopened his recruitment because, “I made my promise to my mom that I would explore all of my options.” Of his decision to pick the Orange, Battle said, “I love the coaching staff. I love the community there. It’s a great college feel, and I think we should have a pretty good team next year. So, I just love Syracuse a lot.”
Though Battle is listed as a small forward by Scout.com—the No. 8 player at his position and the No. 24 player in the class of 2016—he projects as a guard in college. Battle is a dynamic wing scorer with range out to the three-point line who can beat defenders off the dribble and guard multiple positions. He potentially could play multiple positions in Syracuse’s backcourt; he has the creative intuition to man the point, the athleticism and craft to drive and finish at the rim and the shooting stroke to stretch defenses. Battle said Syracuse views him “more as a combo guard—play the point a little bit, play the two a little bit.”
Battle also mentioned Syracuse’s development of big point guards like former first-round draft pick and current Milwaukee Buck Michael Carter-Williams (6'6") as well as current starter Michael Gbinije (6'7"). “I can’t wait,” said Battle, who scored 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists in a loss to Paul VI Catholic (Va.) High on Saturday. Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels noted Battle’s passing ability but said he thinks his “true position” is on the wing. ”I think Tyus Battle’s biggest strength is his ability to score,” Daniels said. “And I think his attributes and abilities lend more to him being off the ball than on the ball.”
Gbinije and shooting guard Trevor Cooney are fifth-year seniors who are set to depart this off-season, and Kaleb Joseph, a four-star point guard prospect in the class of 2014, is playing sparingly as a sophomore. That suggests Battle—who’s joined in the Orange’s 2016 recruiting class by four-star power forward Matthew Moyer—should be in line to earn major minutes right away in a perimeter rotation that will also feature freshmen Malachi Richardson and Franklin Howard. In addition, the Orange will have Pascal Chukwu, a 7'2" center who transferred from Providence, eligible next season. They are also still pursuing four-star 2016 center Taurean Thompson.
Fortunately for Syracuse, the NCAA rolled back its scholarship penalty from three per year to two per year over the next four years as the result of an appeal and recently ruled that the program can count the three scholarships it gave up this year toward the penalty. That will provide more roster flexibility for the Orange going forward, but it doesn’t undercut the basic point that the Orange are less equipped to weather recruiting miscalculations than other programs. If one of Syracuse’s class of 2016 prospects doesn’t pan out, it will further thin a roster ranked last in the country in the “bench minutes” (16%) statistic compiled on kenpom.com.
This is an important year in recruiting for the Orange, and Battle—who signed in the early period—could provide exactly what they need: backcourt depth and versatility.