In March Madness, lightning can strike at any moment. If, in 2018, UMBC played Virginia 50 times, they would probably lose 49 times. If Loyola Chicago replayed their tournament a million times, they probably rarely make it to the Final Four. Weird things happen. Shooters who rely on the 3 can carry you, but they can just as well shoot your team out of the tournament if they get cold for one game, and that’s why, when it comes time to dancing, the teams that most often make the most noise are those with experienced leaders, who usually can score consistently. And while Syracuse is still fighting for their NCAA tournament life, they’ve got just the player to do that with if they can crack the field.
Junior forward Elijah Hughes has been the Orange’s most consistent player this year, and it’s not even close. While sophomore Buddy Boeheim can put up gaudy numbers due to the pure volume of shots he takes from beyond the arc, it’s Elijah Hughes that makes Syracuse tick.
Hughes has scored at least ten points in every game, and he’s notched at least 15 in 19 of his 23 contests. Since December 7th, Hughes has been held under 17 points just one time, and it is his level of play that helped Syracuse rise from ACC afterthought to a potential contender for an at-large bid.
Hughes helped Syracuse turn their season around in a pivotal game in January when the Orange, sitting at 1-3 in ACC play, visited #18 Virginia, who had beaten Syracuse by 14 in the season opener. The game went to overtime, and Hughes played every minute, knocking down four triples, grabbing nine rebounds, and gutted out 18 points on a day when his shot wasn’t falling as frequently as normal. Syracuse won in overtime and the statement victory sparked a five-game winning streak. Hughes scored 19, 17, and 26 points in the Orange’s next three wins – two on the road – as they skyrocketed up the ACC standings. Syracuse now sits at 7-5 in ACC play, good enough for a tie with Virginia for fourth and the rights to a coveted double-bye in the ACC tournament. Perhaps more impressive than his statistics is his durability. Since November 27, Hughes has come out of a game just three times, and on all three occasions, the Orange led by more than ten points.
If Syracuse gets into the NCAA tournament, it will certainly be on the back of their junior star. And if the Orange, a team already used to making long underdog runs in the NCAA tournament, make it to March, be ready for Elijah Hughes to lift this team onto his shoulders and help Syracuse carve out a vicious warpath en route to a deep run.