2013-2014 Syracuse Basketball: Learnings, Musings & Whatnot

Now that the season is over, it's time to take stock and see what we learned.

Put the 2013-2014 Syracuse Orange basketball season in the books. It's over and done. Slightly earlier than expected, of course.

The emotions of the final loss are starting to subside and perspective is beginning to creep in. As such, I thought I'd share my learnings on the year that was. What can we learn from a year with such high highs and low lows? Plenty.

When You Gaze Long Into The #Narrative, The #Narrative Also Gazes Back At You

Syracuse Basketball has a certain reputation to national audiences. It basically goes like this:

Syracuse loads up on cupcakes early on, props up its record and ranking to make themselves look better than they are, eventually comes back down to Earth in conference play and then disappoints with an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.

And I'll be God damned if that's not what happened this season. Yes, we can make good cases that SU's early schedule was not all cupcakes but non-SU folks don't want to hear it. They know their #narrative and Syracuse fit it to a T this year.

Man, does that piss me off.

T-Shirt-Worthy Success Is Not True Success & It's Wise To Know The Difference

The 2013-2014 season is going to serve as a cautionary tale for Syracuse basketball teams (and Syracuse basketball fans) to come. Historic starts do not ensure historic finishes.

The 25-0 run was great. Don't get me wrong. So many great wins in there. Winning the Maui Invitational. Beating Villanova, UNC Indiana in the Dome. The Tyler Ennis buzzer-beater over Pitt. Beating Duke in overtime. You can't take away how exciting the season was between November and early February, even if you can tweak how you see some of those close wins towards the end.

The 25-0 run seemed to be the apex of Syracuse T-Shirt insanity. As much as we're already guilty of overdoing it on shirts for less-than-worthy moments, it got out of hand during this run. Every win seemed to produce it's own shirt, sometimes three or four. It's a harmless thing in and of itself, but it speaks to a strange foreboding sense of doom when you really think about.

The Syracuse t-shirt madness seems to imply, "Commemorate this semi-special moment right here because it's all gonna come crashing down before the really special stuff and better to have this than nothing at all."

I hate to break it to you but your 25-0 t-shirt will not age gracefully. Much like a "Buffalo Bills AFC Champion 1990-1994" shirt or a "2001 Seattle Mariners Best Record In Baseball" shirt, the negative connotations of what each shirt doesn't say will only grow louder. Five years from now, Syracuse fans will not see your shirt and think good thoughts. They'll be reminded of eventual disappointment. The true folly of Syracuse T-Shirt Madness.

It's (Slowly But Surely Turning Into) A Woman's World

This season brought about something we don't see too often around these parts. The Syracuse women's basketball team was alive in the NCAA Tournament longer than the Syracuse men's basketball team. Sure, they both lost in the same round (don't get semantic with me with your "third" round chatter), but the women at least made it as far as they were "supposed" to, according to seeding. Furthermore, if Brittney Sykes was available, they might have won the game.

The WBB team earned their first NCAA win in program history and judging by recent history, it won't be their last. Coach Q has changed SU from a bottom-tier women's program into a solid contender and annual post-season squad. The Orange have gone to the postseason in six-consecutive seasons and made it to the NCAA Tournament in two-straight years. And by all accounts, the incoming recruiting classes and returning players will keep the momentum moving up and up.

Now, no one expects the women's program to replace the men's program anytime soon. But, Jim Boeheim's squad might have to get used to sharing NCAA visibility with Coach Q's team more often now. And that's great news for the program and the school.

Expecting Perfection From The Imperfect

Nick Fasulo summed this up perfectly over at The Mothership. You know Tyler Ennis, that guy who seemed immune to pressure all season? The guy who we dubbed The Ice Man and (ugh) made t-shirts to commemorate? The one who finally cracked in the closing moments of the Dayton game and settled for the tough shot instead of driving for the easier one? Yeah, he's 19-years old.

He's not an Ice Man. He's an Ice Boy.

I'm officially at the age when I can start looking at teenagers, and even people in the early 20's, and see just how young they are. Just how much they have left to experience and learn from and deal with.

And man, we put a CRAPTON of pressure and expectation and demands on these guys, most of whom are no older than 20. When they succeed, we praise them for their maturity. When they fail, we blast them for their stupidity.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I get on Trevor Cooney's case all the time. And then I look at his bio page and I'm reminded. Oh, right. He's a kid. And he's killing himself to be as good as he can. And he's a hundred times more upset about his missed shots than I am. Right...

I really do feel bad for Cooney. In terms of what he does, his own situation and what is asked of him, I think he's had it harder than almost anyone who has played for Syracuse since I started following the team.

As a RS freshman on a team lacking guard depth, he was asked to make an impact around the same development timeframe that Jim Boeheim looked at Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf and saw Basketball Kryptonite. This season, he was quite literally the ONLY three-point option available. He attempted three times as many 3-pointers as the No. 2 guy on the team. Because he had to.

I guess the points is…It Gets Better. Cooney will get better. He will become more consistent (at least I think he will). And he will eventually come to meet the unusually-high expectation that Syracuse fans have for him. An expectation set less by his own talents and more by the lack of any other viable option around him.

The Depth Charts Of Despair

I believe it was Lisa who mentioned this on the podcast but Syracuse spent this season in a weird kind of depth chart limbo.

The Orange had a lot of eligible basketball players. A bench brimming with young guys ready to make their mark. But Jim Boeheim is Jim Boeheim and those young, unproven guys were just too young and unproven. And so, the Orange went to battle with the eight guys he deemed worthy. From that point forward, Boeheim basically acted as if everyone else on the roster ceased to exist. That's his prerogative but the last couple seasons really seem to have driven home the cost of year roster turnover for SU and how it's causing long-term problems.

Namely, you end up with weird seasons like this one where you have tons of available players but very few of them good enough to actually play.

We might end up in the same situation all over again next year if Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant both go pro. Then again, with four sophomores and two incoming freshman ready to get in the game, depth might be less of an issue than experience. But overcoming lack of experience is something we seem capable of doing easily. Lack of depth is an unescapable issue once the season begins (at least under Boeheim).

Is there a solution? I don't know. You can't bring in five new freshman every year, there just isn't room. You roll the dice that the each recruiting class includes 1-2 long-term players for every one-and-done or two-and-done guy and then do what you can with what you've got. It just means that every couple seasons you end up like this one, forced to rely on a small number of talented guys to play their best all the time. Because the alternative is…well, you know.

How bout you? What was your big takeaway from this season? What did we learn? What do we need to mindful of as a program moving forward?

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