Was Frank Howard’s absence the only thing preventing Syracuse from being a Top 25 team all year?B.H: If Syracuse had beaten UConn, SU may never have fallen out of the poll. With Howard, the Orange would’ve beaten the Huskies, as Jalen Carey’s early turnovers against previously unseen pressure would’ve been avoided and Syracuse may have defended UConn’s 3-point shooters better. But Howard is a shell of his last-season self so far. He rarely attacks the basket and hasn’t found his 3-point touch. So yes, his absence is the reason Syracuse hasn’t been ranked every week. But he’ll need to get back to last season’s form to keep the Orange in the Top 25.C.D: To a degree, yes. Both Frank Howard and Jalen Carey suffered injuries before the season, and when Carey returned, he still wasn’t 100 percent, nor did he practice much before SU’s losses. Both players not being fully healthy ultimately led to the Orange’s demise from the Top 25. However, Syracuse is a much better team with Howard in as starter. Howard adds a veteran leadership that SU lacked when it was Carey and Battle manning the point. He is the best facilitator and knows the 2-3 zone as well as anyone else. The absence of Howard may have been a contributing factor toward Syracuse’s drop from the Top 25, but it was not the only reason behind it. There’s much more that needs addressing.M.G: There’s a good chance his absence has prevented SU from being Top 25. When he’s on the floor, everything appears to be under control. In a raucous environment at Cameron Indoor last year, for example, he handled the pressure and noise admirably. That presence goes a long way during ACC road play. Syracuse has a lot of time off in the next four weeks and that gives Howard the time he needs to get back to himself. He “didn’t miss a shot” this summer, head coach Jim Boeheim said. While an exaggeration, the point was clear: Howard could be on track to have a stellar senior year. Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments Published on December 11, 2018 at 9:56 pm Almost a third of the way into the season, Syracuse (7-2) is in the midst of a five-game winning streak. The Orange haven’t lost since their two losses in 24 hours at Madison Square Garden last month. There have been positives in the SU backcourt but negatives down low as Syracuse seeks to keep its winning streak alive.Here’s what our beat writers think about three major topics so far.Are Syracuse’s centers its weakest position group?Billy Heyen: Yes. The Orange have two point guards they trust and a number of effective wing players. Syracuse has the ability in the middle to find success: a 7-foot-2 rim protector in Paschal Chukwu, good hands and footwork of Bourama Sidibe, and the playmaking of small-ball center Marek Dolezaj. But it hasn’t come together. When SU has played star centers, like Oregon’s Bol Bol and Georgetown’s Jessie Govan, there hasn’t been much defensive resistance. As Jim Boeheim said, Syracuse needs its centers to be a strong team in the long run. But so far, they’ve been bad.Charlie DiSturco: Yes. Syracuse’s centers have struggled immensely with both scoring, defense and foul discipline. Even Oshae Brissett, a forward, averages 3.4 rebounds per game more than Paschal Chukwu — and Elijah Hughes outrebounds Bourama Sidibe. This group of centers have potential, but they have been unable to stop other talented bigs, like Georgetown’s Jessie Govan Saturday. Every other position group has multiple players that are regular contributors at some capacity. The centers do not.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMatthew Gutierrez: Without question. Aside from the centers’ lack of scoring and defense, they haven’t been great in one area they have complete control of: boxing out. Several times against Georgetown, the centers were caught ball watching. It happened at MSG on repeat and, while they’ve improved, there’s one place the centers can get better real fast. By establishing firm rebounding position, they’ll be less susceptible to second-chance points, which drag on the defense.Has Elijah Hughes lived up to his expectations? B.H: The consensus was that Hughes would bring shooting and instant offense. He has. Especially with Frank Howard still not playing like he was last season, Hughes has been a key third cog with Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett. There’ve been some games where Hughes is too content to stay outside and shoot, but then just when it seems he’s having an off night, he gets hot. That happened early in the second half against Georgetown, when he hit three 3s in a handful of minutes to get Syracuse right back in the game.C.D: I’d say so. He has joined Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle as Syracuse’s three-headed monster and has been extremely consistent in close games. He has been the best shooter on the team and even flashes some dominance inside the paint. Aside from tangible skills, Hughes also provides a spark for SU. He made a few big 3s down the stretch and was a big help to Battle as the Orange mounted a comeback. On any given day, Hughes has the potential to be the best player on the floor, something not expected when the season started.M.G: Probably. Hughes’ biggest room for growth: involving others. He’s a capable one-on-one player who has exemplified an ability to knock down big shots, especially from deep. That’s going to be key as the defenses SU faces improve during conference play. He’s created for others only in spurts, so it’s not a matter of if. He can attack off the dribble and suck defenders his way. Syracuse could just use a little more of that.