So lately I have had several lively discussions with fellow Syracuse fans regarding this team, this season, and how we'll remember it. Me...? I'm of the mindset that my brother put in my head after they beat NC State when SU had something like a 462 - 0 run in that game, and it became apparent that this team was special. I asked him when he thought the Orangmen's first loss would be. He stated simply, "I don't care. I'm just going to enjoy the ride." That concise statement epitomizes this year's team. Now, I have heard every critical comment that can be made about this team. And, yes, I'm guilty of uttering some disparaging remarks myself. No, they may not "WOW" you every night out. They don't rebound well enough. They have stretches where they struggle to score. Their halfcourt offense stinks. Scoop makes questionable decisions. When will Brandon show up? Dion and Kris shoot too many jumpers. Baye doesn't give them enough inside. Southerland needs to hit 3's or he is useless on this team. And so on and so forth it goes, as if Doug Gottlieb himself were in our collective living room, telling us just how awful this #2 ranked team is. You know what else? This team wins. They win by overwhelming a lesser opponent - see: St. John's. They win ugly - see: at Louisville. They win when they play poorly - see: South Florida. (Still deciding what was worse in that game - SU's play or their uni's.) They make the plays necessary to win the games. And, frankly, that is all that matters. Up to this point.
Now? Now what matters is what this team does in March. What happens over the next 4 weeks will determine if their season is a success or a failure. Just writing that sentence seems absurd. But it's the truth. And there have been a few seasons that have ended in disappointing fashion. Here is my personal list:
1988 - Lost to Rhode Island in the 2nd round. Seikaly, DC, Sherman, Stevie Thompson, Pre-season #1. Just no business losing that game.
1989 - THE most disappointed I've ever been. Up 10 at the half against Illinois in the Elite Eight. "The Flying Illini" with Stephen Bardo, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle.....vs. SU's Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Stevie Thompson. One of the best games I've ever watched. Sherm fouls out late, Illinois completes the comeback, 89-86. Still HAUNTS me.
1990 - DC's senior year. Losing to Minnesota in the Sweet 16. Just an ugly game. (SU had struggled with Virginia in the 2nd round leading up to this game) I was in the 6th grade and went to the movies that night as I had taped the game. My father was legitimately angry with me when I got home. "How do you go to the movies tonight? With SU playing??" Since then, I've made every effort imaginable to watch every Syracuse game. Thanks, Dad.
1991 - Billy Owens' junior year. First 2 seed to lose to a 15. The Richmond game. Billy's last game as an Orangeman. Really nothing else to say.
1998 - Sweet 16 loss to Duke. Game was tied at 49 at the under 12 timeout. Duke wins going away 80-67. Not a bad season - just hate Duke. And REALLY hate losing to Duke.
2000 - Lost to eventual national champ Michigan state. Were up 10 at the break, but just got trucked int he 2nd half. State won by 16. Again, not a horribly disappointing season or result, but you hate being in a position they were in only to let the game slip away.
2004 - GMac banged up all postseason, Warrick gets into foul trouble vs. Alabama in Sweet 16. Lose as Bama makes plays down the stretch, and SU ran out of gas. Prevented matchup w/UConn in Elite Eight.
2010 - Arinze going down just killed that team. So upsetting since Syracuse was arguably the best team in the nation with him in the lineup. If he's healthy, they win it all that year.
But you know what else....? I take so many great memories from those seasons as well. It's great looking back at this program over the years. I like when people make the argument that Syracuse isn't an elite program; that they haven't been past the Sweet 16 since 2003, and before that, it wasn't since 1996. You know what else has happened during that time? SU hasn't had a losing season. They are a regular participant in the NCAA tourney. They take up residence in the top half of the Big East - arguably the nation's toughest conference - year in and year out. Will I be disappointed if they flame out of this year's Big Dance early? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY! But I'll remember Fab coming into camp in great shape. And Dion losing the weight as well. Fair Bros being the ultimate glue guy. I'll remember the resiliency of this team - winning games previous SU teams would have lost. I believe it's a testament to this program that we're even talking about this right now. It's a testament to Syracuse that they win year after year and often are in the discussion of one of the nation's best teams. I think we all spend too much time worrying about how SU is perceived nationally or when the proverbial shoe is going to drop (early exit in the Dance), or what recruits are coming in next year, and who's leaving for the NBA and etc., etc., etc. I enjoy this team. I absolutely LOVED the 2009-2010 team with Rautins and Wes Johnson. These guys have Scoop & Krisjo, Triche, Brandon Reese, Nick Resavy & Matt Tomaszewski from that 2010 team. I hope this team will make up for the 2010 team's disappointment. And you know what I'll think of when that happens? I will reflect on all those "disappointments" mentioned above. I will think of all the players and different coaching staff members who have helped make this program what it is today. And we will celebrate all of them.