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How Does Syracuse Basketball Define Success?


One college basketball fan's treasure is another basketball fan's trash. And whether you root for the Syracuse Orange, North Carolina Tar Heels, Wisconsin Badgers or Washington St. Cougars all shapes how you perceive the same thing.

Take Syracuse and North Carolina. Both began the season as top five programs and possible favorites to win the National Title. Both spent most of the regular season ranked among the top teams in the nation. Both were part of the NCAA Tournament one-seed discussion as the season came to a close. Both received NCAA Tournament one-seeds. And both advanced to the Elite Eight before losing.

I haven't spoken to any North Carolina fans on the matter, but if I had to guess, I would imagine they're disappointed with that. Being who they are and knowing how often they go to the Final Four (and beyond), I would think they expected to do the same this year and when they fell short, they couldn't help but feel like true success had evaded them.

(Here's what I discovered...Carolina fans considered this a "bad season." A BAD SEASON!)

So how do Syracuse fans feel about it?

I said after the Ohio St. loss that it was a great season and a team to proud of. I still stand by that. You can play the What If game all day long when it comes to Fab Melo but the situation was what it was and I think this team ultimately met and surpassed expectations given that ordeal.

But was the season a success, as in, do you walk away feeling like we accomplished our goal?

Obviously, winning the National Title is the ultimate goal. But given the rarity of such things and the fact that only one team can win it, it's hard to honestly say that's your expectation every year. But perhaps going to the Final Four following the best regular season in the history of Syracuse basketball isn't too much to ask in terms of expectations.

Over at The Juice Online, Wes Chang and Saugat Sen have a back-and-forth discussion about whether or not you can consider this season a success. Wes' immediate answer is that "it depends on what lens you’re using," which takes the question turns it on its head, and separates it into two different questions:

1. Do you consider this season a success?

2. Is this what a successful Syracuse basketball season looks like to you?

Both are valid questions that need to be separated. And it was Saugat's answer that showed me that:

I think Syracuse fans are happy if we win the Big East and make it to the second weekend of the tournament.

I literally yelled, "What?" at my computer screen when I read that. My immediate reaction was to say that was incorrect and that Syracuse fans expect to go to the Final Four in order to deem their season a "success."

And then I walked away from the computer and thought about it. I realized that perhaps that's not wrong...but I'm pretty sure it's wrong for THIS season.

Saugat adds later on that "before the season started, if you told anyone that Syracuse would lose just 1 game in the regular season and make it to the Elite 8. I think 10 out of 10 people would consider that a successful season." And again, I think that in a vacuum, that's correct. But it's not correct when you're talking about the 2011-12 Syracuse basketball team.

Before the season started, Syracuse was a top-five preseason team. There were multiple people listing them amongst their favorites to win the NCAA title. Knowing that, if you told me that Syracuse's season ended in the Elite 8, I can honestly tell you I would be disappointed. With the expectations thrown out there and the talent involved, I expected a Final Four and I think many of you did too.

And by the way, a one-loss regular season and Big East regular season crown was awesome, but I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a 21-10 season that culminates with a run through the NCAA Tournament to win the National Title. And if you wouldn't, you're a crazy person.

So here's where I back off a little...most any other Syracuse basketball season...I would agree with Saugat. All things equal and not thinking in terms of a specific season, the expectation that most Syracuse fans puts out there is likely to reach the Elite 8, or at the very least the Sweet 16. If for no other reason than that's what we're used to.

For the record, I personally expect to go to the Final Four every year. I'm not kidding. I know that's an impossibility and clearly not likely, but, I think that a program at Syracuse's level can and should compete for that level of competition every, single season. But I understand why some people don't.

I suppose that's where the whole "are we an elite program" question pops in. An elite program, like North Carolina, is despondent over an Elite 8 finish. Syracuse fans are...I don't know...torn, I think. I think there's a part of us that wants to protect ourselves from disappointment, so we claim that it was a success to go this far rather than admit our desire to go further.

You want to be an elite program? Think like one. Act like one.

Anyway, my long-winded point is that the 2011-12 season was not the usual Syracuse basketball season. In a "usual" year, we'd have had a very solid regular season, finish with 7-8 losses, entered the NCAA Tournament as a 3/4 seed and then made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Perhaps that's how you define success in recent years.

I happen to think the days of expecting such things are over. Between our recent history, the incoming recruits, the facilities and the newfound place back atop the sport, Syracuse basketball is in the midst of an on-court renaissance. Today the Elite 8, tomorrow THE WORLD. That's my theory, at least.

And I don't think calling a season successful because we won the regular season title is going to cut it anymore.

But that's just me...