Syracuse point guard Frank Howard suspended on eve of NCAA tournament

Syracuse starting point guard Frank Howard will not play in his team’s NCAA tournament opener against Baylor on Thursday due to suspension.

Syracuse announced the senior’s absence on the eve of the first-round game, saying Howard “will not play in the NCAA tournament for an indefinite period of time due to a violation of athletic department policy.”

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No more specific reason was given. Head coach Jim Boeheim gave vague answers about the suspension at his day-before news conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday:

On Wednesday night, Syracuse student newspaper The Daily Orange reported that Howard’s suspension was related to a failed drug test.

Boeheim would not say whether Howard would be available on Saturday for a potential matchup with top-seeded Gonzaga.

He appeared to say that Syracuse practiced with Howard’s impending absence in mind. Howard did travel with the team to Salt Lake City:

Howard played 37 and 39 minutes, respectively, in Syracuse’s two ACC tournament games last week.

Unclear if Howard suspension related to Zion trip

In the second of the two, a quarterfinal loss to Duke – Syracuse’s last game prior to the NCAA tournament – Howard appeared to trip Zion Williamson as the Blue Devils star turned to run down the court after a dunk.

It’s unclear if that incident is at all related to the suspension. After the Duke game, Howard denied any intent. "If you're saying I'm trying to trip him, I don't get it," he told reporters. "He's a hell of an athlete. I have a lot of respect for him. I'm not going to wait for four years to get to this stage and start tripping people."

Boeheim also attempted to downplay the apparent trip. “There was no trip involved out there,” the Syracuse coach said. “I don't know who was talking about that but it was bunk. Trying to manufacture something out of nothing."

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Report: Howard suspended for failed drug test

Instead, per The Daily Orange, the “violation of athletic department policy” was a failed drug test.

The DO cited three anonymous sources, including one former player, who said: “He failed a drug test. Not sure what kind or when it happened.”

Both the NCAA and individual schools administer drug testing of athletes. Syracuse’s official statement on the suspension would seem to indicate that, if the DO’s reporting is accurate, that this was a school-administered test.

How will Howard’s suspension impact Syracuse?

Howard is a long, athletic, 6-foot-5 lead guard who has struggled this season on offense. He averages an inefficient 8.9 points and 2.9 assists per game. But he is an important defensive presence at the head of Boeheim’s zone.

Cuse can cope without him. Tyus Battle will likely slide over to point guard. But the main worry is that the rotation is already somewhat shallow. Buddy Boeheim – Jim’s son – could be asked to play 30-plus minutes against Baylor. Freshman guard Jalen Carey played major minutes early in the season, but hasn’t hit double-digit minutes since a Jan. 12 loss to Georgia Tech. Carey didn’t play at all in five of the team’s last six regular-season games.

In four games without Howard to start the season – after the senior sustained a preseason ankle injury – Syracuse beat Eastern Washington and Morehead State, but lost to UConn and Oregon.

“Fortunately, Tyus has played the point quite a bit this year,” Boeheim said Wednesday. “Jalen's had good practices. It is very similar to last week when we found out Tyus wouldn't play [in the ACC tournament due to injury]. I thought the players made a great adjustment. We played really well in both games in the tournament. And we're going to have to make that same adjustment this week with a different guy going.”

Syracuse and Baylor tip off at approximately 9:57 p.m. ET on Thursday.

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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