My senior year at Cuse in 1999-2000, (three years removed from the '96 Final Four run and oblivious to what was coming in three years) the Orange(men) made a fantastic run to start the basketball season. Led by Jason Hart, Etan "Poet Laureate" Thomas and Ryan Blackwell, Cuse started out the season 19-0. In true Syracuse fashion, we then lost 3 of our next 5, but that's not what's important. What I remember most about that "magical" season was stopping by the Student Bookstore after the 16th win to see that they were selling Orange t-shirts that said 16-0 on them for $20 a pop. And sure enough, after the team won its 17th game, those shirts were replaced by 17-0 orange shirts for $20. So on and so on it went until they finally lost.
I couldn't help but wonder...was there someone out there collecting these shirts? What did they do with the 16-0 shirt after we won the 17th game? Was there a 16-0 t-shirt-wearing Cuse fan pissed when they won their 17th game? Did the school put the leftovers in a warehouse until the Orange begin another season 16-0? Does Ryan Blackwell wear them from time to time to remind himself of days gone by?
And dammit if I didn't wish I had one of them. If you actually own one of those shirts, please send us a pic. I'd love to know that the memory of the Aught-Aught Orangemen lives on today.
ANYWAY, the point of all this is that since the Big East Basketball Media Day reminded us that they still playing basketball, I thought it might be a good time to look at just what we're in for this season from the Fightin' Boeheims.
To get anyone up to speed with the 2006-2007 Cuse, here's what you need to know:
1. This is the first team to play without any starters from the 2003 Championship team. The only remaining link to that team is fifth-year senoir Matt Gorman.
2. The Cuse has bowed out of the NCAA Tourney in the 1st round for two straight years. This is, by all accounts, no longer acceptable.
3. The team features three senoirs, center Darryl Watkins, forward Terrence Roberts, and forward Demetris Nichols, all of whom were starters last year.
4. The backcourt figures to consist of star-in-the-making sophomore Eric Devendorf, speedy junior Josh Wright, and Paul Harris, a hyped-up true freshman who is apparently the greatest human being since Jesus Christ aka Carmelo Anthony.
5. Guard Louie McCroskey has transfered, but we won't miss him all that much (see #4).
6. Terrence Roberts was named to the Preseason All-Big East Conference team. Eric Devendorf recieved Preseason Honorable Mention. Paul Harris was named Preseason Rookie of the Year. All of that means absolutely nothing.
7. Jim Boeheim is bald. And he's in his 29th season.
Syracusefan.com has by far the comprehensive rundown of the first practice. Like everyone else, his biggest question is who will fill the void of Mr. McNamara while he gets his Greek on. You could say that he's almost too detailed, letting us know the specifics of every drill and the pace thereof. I'd skim down to the summary for the good stuff, where we're told that the team will likely be playing smallball this year and lacks the depth of year's past (which was never Beoheim's strong point anyway). And of course, he saves some appropriate man-love for freshman extrodinaire Paul Harris. "Harris is an absolute monster—even his muscles have muscles." Beoynd that, it sounds like Harris is not only a raw talent but also a tenacious defender and as close to a sure thing as we've been promised.
USA Today sat down with Boeheim to discuss the upcoming season, amongst other things. It's mostly blather but Jimmy reminds us that while we talk up Paul Harris, we shouldn't forget about freshman Mike Jones. "Mike Jones is another outstanding freshman who really can shoot the ball from the perimeter."
FoxSports notes that even if Harris doesn't end up starting, it's "irrelevant because he'll be on the floor when the game is on the line. " They also note that "Boeheim expects that 6-5 sophomore Andy Rautins, freshman forward Mike Jones and senior power forward Matt Gorman should all play roles coming off the bench. Rautins will give the team a much-needed perimeter threat, while Jones is extremely talented and Gorman adds another veteran up front." So much for that talk about no depth.
ESPN was nice enough to guess that the Cuse "could be Final Four-good," which is great in a non-commital way. Again, the biggest factors seem to be Harris' impact and the play of the seniors down low.
Alright, so what did we learn? We're going to overhype Harris like there's no tomorrow. He'll disappoint expectations by not single-handidly winning a Championship but show promise in the postseason. The seniors will play well and Devendorf will take some positive steps as a leader and star.
So armed with all of this information, let's go ahead and predict the season:
Smooth sailing as usual in the first part of the schedule. (St. Francis, Penn/UTEP, Northeastern, Charlotte, Canisius, Holy Cross, Witchita State, Oklahoma State, Colgate, Baylor, Drexel, Hofstra and St. Bonaventure). Should be 13-0 at this point. Start up the t-shirt press.
Well, we run into Pittsburgh at home on January 4th and we almost always lose these early big tests, so there's 13-1. At this point its a Big East straightshot through January. At Marqueete (win), at Rutgers (loss), Villanova (loss), Cincinatti (win), at St Johns (win), at Louisville (loss) and Notre Dame (win) and that puts us at 17-4 and 4-4 in conference.
February starts with DePaul (win), at UConn (loss), St Johns (win), South Florida (win), Uconn (win), Providence (win), the only Georgetown game of the year (win) and finally at Villanova (loss). The regular season ends and Cuse will be 23-6 and 10-6 in the conference, good enough for a #3 seed in the Tournament. We're due for an upset in the BET so I think we lose on Day 2 and end up with a #5 seed. We beat Tulsa in the first round and hold off a pesky Washington in the 2nd round before finally succumbing to the revenge of Kansas in the Sweet 16. I have no data to back any of this up...its just a feeling.
By the way, Pittsburgh, Providence and Georgetown on the schedule only once...just doesn't seem right.