USA TODAY Sports
Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange can beat just about any team and, just as likely, his team can lose to just about any team.
The Syracuse Orange have won 8 straight games. It has compiled a record of 18 wins against just one defeat. And the Orange have already been victorious in three conference road games, including a win at then-No.1 Louisville.
The Syracuse Orange lost to a team that was beaten by Canisius in its own gym. The Orange have trailed in the second half of its last four games. Its recent play caused head coach Jim Boeheim to say, "If we don't get better, we're going to lose in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament." And that was following Syracuse's dramatic 57 - 55 win over No. 21 Cincinnati.
Scary if you're a Syracuse fan.
But fans know Boeheim is right, of course. The Hall of Fame coach has been there and done that. He's seen it all during his time coaching Syracuse and he would know better than anyone just how good, or how not-good, his team is. A team ranked in the top four, a team that struggled with the occasional tomato can in the non-conference. A team with future NBA players/stars, a team relying-on/depending-on freshmen that need more seasoning.
And it's those positives and negatives that make this version of the Syracuse Orange both fun and maddening at the same excruciating time. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams (who's stock rises and falls more than any other NBA prospect in recent history) give SU guard play most other teams don't have. Rakeem Christmas, Dajuan Coleman, Trevor Cooney, and Baye Keita combine to be the biggest question mark of any top-tier team.
Contradiction, thy name is Syracuse Basketball.
But here is the good part Orange fans; in not knowing what you have in this team, you know what you have in this team. Look around the college basketball landscape. There's about 10 or so teams that legitimately have a shot at winning the National Championship. After that, there are about 5 to maybe 10 more teams with a fighters chance. The rest of the lot? No dice.
Syracuse is certainly in the "legitimate shot" category -- given the guard play, defense, the coaching, and the overall talent. But just the same, as Boeheim pointed out, SU could fall in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament -- given the inexperience and the major loss of senior James Southerland (whom I say, through no inside information whatsoever, has played his last game for Syracuse). I know what you're thinking, "Matt, you ridiculously handsome son of a bitch, why would Orange fans think that's a good thing?" Well, you keenly observant bastard, it's easy, really. Orange fans know this team could run to April or be done two games in, fans of just about every other team have no idea what to think.
Followers of, let's say, Indiana, are all-in Final Four or bust. The same goes for Duke and maybe even Michigan. Should their teams lose it would come as a blinding shock. A Koko B. Ware punch to the gut. Although SU has won 18 games, its fans have already received numerous gut-punches. Outside of losing Game One of the NCAA tourney, there really won't be a sucker-punch type loss to be had because fans will have seen it coming.
Trust me, that's a good thing! There is nothing worse than being blind-sided by a March loss -- something SU fans know all to well. We're a little less than two months away from Selection Sunday and Syracuse has proven itself worthy a top seed, but it has shown it could lose to any half-way decent team (let's say a 9 seed or lower).
Now, to be clear, I don't really think fans won't take an upset loss to heart just because they could kind of see it coming. But I do think Orange fans are in a better position to enjoy what they have while they have it. Take pleasure in the close games, the struggles, the crazy wins.
Most "experts" and fans thought this Orange team didn't have the makeup, especially without Southerland, to win at Louisville. That was wrong. Just the same, a lot of people wonder about Syracuse's makeup when it comes to forecasting the NCAA tourney. Those doubters could be wrong, too.
Basically, Orange fans know March could lead to something special or something the polar opposite of special and they should be prepared for anything. As they say, knowledge is power.