I've recently become obsessed with the entirety of Syracuse Orange basketball's history for two reasons.
1. I've been feeling like, for most SU fans, it all started in the 60's and anything that happened before that is irrelevant.
2. It's the summer and I don't have anything else to write about.
I've been going over a lot of the old names, getting to know the old teams and their God-I-wish-we'd-pull-these-out-just-once uniforms. I've been re-learning lots of fun facts (In 112 years of basketball, Syracuse has had seven coaches. SEVEN). And while I'm intrigued by all of the success the program had in those early years, the masochist in me is more intrigued by the woeful years in-between.
Cause let's face it, we're pretty blessed as Syracuse fans. 20 or more wins every year except one since 1982. Lord knows how many NCAA Tournament appearances and star players. We cry when we "only" win 22 games in a year. Imagine what it might be like to have a truly terrible season...
Which got me thinking about the years when Syracuse basketball was outright awful. And because of that, I want to take a look at...
The Ten Worst Seasons In Syracuse Basketball History
T-9. 1923-24: 8-10, .444
Head Coach: Ed Dollard (13th & final season)
Leading Scorer: Hank Greve (87 points*)
Best Name: Charley Trout/Pep Fasce
Weirdest Opponent: Mexico City YMCA
First of all, it should tell you everything you need to know about the 112-year history of Syracuse basketball that a team two games under .500 is one of the "worst" of all time. This team was coming off a losing season and, to make matters worse, had just lost most of its best players. Early losses to Clarkson (30-26) and Cornell (28-10) set the tone for a middling season. Thankfully, they defeated the Mexico City YMCA (no, I am not making that up) and entered February with a 5-4 mark. Then the wheels came off. Three starters were kicked off the team for not meeting academic requirements (so that's where Fab learned it) and the team's top scorer was suspended when head coach Ed Dollard saw him humming during halftime of a close game against Colgate. Again, I am not making any of this up. The Orangemen lost six of their last nine and finished with a losing record for the second-straight year.
T-9. 1942-43: 8-10, .444
Head Coach: Lew Andreas (19th season)
Leading Scorer: Billy Gabor (12.1 PPG)
Best Name: Ernie Dela Motte
Weirdest Opponent: Western Reserve
In fairness, this season was right in the midst of World War II and for a sobering reminder of how different the world is today and how lucky we have it, multiple players left the team and school mid-season due to military service. The last game of the season against Penn St. was actually cancelled when, by then, the Orangemen had lost eight players to the military, including top scorers Billy Gabor and Bob Shaddock. Interestingly, the team lost the bulk of its games before it's best players were shipped off. The following year there would be no SU basketball as the season was suspended due to the war.
Head Coach: Marc Guley (3rd season)
Leading Scorer: Frank Reddout (16.9 PPG)
Best Name: Skip Thaw
Weirdest Opponent: Canisius (not that weird, really)
Marc Guley goes down in history as the "worst" coach in Syracuse history. His lifetime .513 winning percentage isn't all that terrible but he had his fair share of middling and poor seasons. This was one of them. After a 2-2 start to the season, team captain Bill Manikas sprained his ankle and missed the rest of the year. The Orangemen started the new year with four-straight losses and never really got back on track.
Head Coach: Fred Lewis (1st season)
Leading Scorer: Carl Vernick (11.1 PPG)
Best Name: Mannie Klutchkowski
Weirdest Opponent: Kent State
Marc Guley had been fired after a miserable 2-22 season (we'll get to that) and it was Dr. Fred Lewis' first year at the helm of the program. It was also the first year of Manley Field House. The Orange were small (biggest player 6'5") and the team had a habit of falling behind early. While they did pull out some impressive wins, including a 68-67 victory over ranked Niagara, they still lost more often than they won.
Head Coach: Lew Andreas (20th season)
Leading Scorer: Francis Miller (156 points)
Best Name: Van Hussel
Weirdest Opponent: Cortland State Teachers
After missing the entire previous season due to World War II, the Orangemen returned but fielded a team that consisted mostly of freshmen. They got off to a great start with five wins but then followed that with five losses. After beating Rochester in January, they would go on to lose seven of their last eight. The good news is that the program would rebound nicely the following year.
Head Coach: Roy Danforth (1st season)
Leading Scorer: Bill Smith (19.0 PPG)
Best Name: Bernie Gipson
Weirdest Opponent: Washington State
First seasons usually don't work out too well for Syracuse coaches (save for Jim Boeheim). Danforth was taking over a team that went 11-14 the year before. Adding insult to injury the team lost sophomore sensations Bob McDaniel and Ernie Austin, both of whom were ineligible to play. The team started the season with five-straight losses and, despite a brief winning streak, spent most of the season on the losing side. Austin returned late in the season and the offense rebounded as the team won five of their last seven games.
Head Coach: John A.R. Scott (7th season)
Leading Scorer: Matt Lee
Best Name: Beal Banks
Weirdest Opponent: Oberlin
Matt Lee was a beast for Syracuse during this season. He scored well over 120 points, averaging over 8 points a game. At the time, that wasn't all that bad. The problem is, no one else on the team did much scoring at all. The team lost eight of its last nine and ended up as one of the most disappointing seasons in SU basketball history.
Head Coach: Marc Guley (11th season)
Leading Scorer: Pete Chudy (20.8 PPG)
Best Name: Russ Beisswanger
Weirdest Opponent: Alfred University
This was the year the wheels came off for Marc Guley. The team had lost a ton of scoring and most of its tallest players. The Orangemen's deficiencies showed early as they lost nine of their first ten. The team was hoping for a spark from the arrival of three football players, including Ernie Davis, but other than a win over Alfred, Penn St. and a second win over UMass, the team would lose all their games from here on out.
Head Coach: None.
Best Name: Clarence Houseknecht
Weirdest Opponent: Oswego Normal/Postdam Normal
The third season in the history of Syracuse basketball was one of it's low points. After finishing the previous seasons .500, the school expanded the schedule to nine games. The young roster wasn't quite able to compete with the likes of Allegheny and RPI, suffering an especially brutal 49-3 loss to Colgate. After the season, AD John A.R. Scott would take over as the first head coach of the program, a move that paid immediate dividends.
Head Coach: Marc Guley (12th & final season)
Leading Scorer: Carl Vernick
Best Name: Russ Beisswanger
Weirdest Opponent: Detroit
With the team coming off a 4-19 season, things weren't looking good. And that was before three probable starters were declared ineligible thanks to a YMCA game (???). The team started the season 0-22, which, if including the previous season, meant the team went on a 27-game losing streak. After that sixteenth loss, Guley announced his resignation effective the end of the season. Amazingly, the team won their final two games of the season, a last-minute win over Boston College and a five-point win over UConn.