The Sweet Sixteen.
That's been the bar for Syracuse Orange basketball for some time now. Probably since 2004-05, I'd say. Once the Championship glow wore up and the program dipped back down, we entered a period were the Sweet Sixteen became the goal. Make it to the second weekend and, as so many people say, the rest is gravy.
After a dry spell, Syracuse started getting back to the Sweet Sixteen. And as if it had created it's own ceiling, the Sweet Sixteen became the final stop for a few quality Orange squads. Then, last year, the team finally broke through, making it back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003 and only the third time since 1996.
Now, the Orange have made it to back-to-back Elite Eights for the first time in school history (which is kinda crazy). While the story on the 2012-13 Syracuse team is still being written, reaching this mark also has major implications for the program at-large.
Like it or not, fair or not, the Elite Eight is now the bar.
If you're struggling to like that notion, keep in mind that there are only a select few programs who can honestly say they expect to get at least that far every season. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State, UConn (when they're eligible). The upper crust of college basketball. The elite.
I don't know about you, but I want to be in that group. I think Syracuse should be in that group. So if the membership requirement is that we need to up our expectations, so be it.
I don't think it's unfair either. Syracuse is arguably in the midst of it's best stretch since the late 80's. In the last four seasons, we have two NCAA one-seeds, three Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights. For those of us who "suffered" through the post-championship hazes in the 90's and 00's, it's been a long time coming. And I don't know about you but I'd like to stay here.
There's nothing about the ACC that makes me think Syracuse can't maintain it's reign of terror. The incoming recruiting class is stellar. Obviously, there are still dark clouds looming in the form of the NCAA investigation, interest in Mike Hopkins and Boeheim's eventual retirement. But if the guys who actually play basketball in orange uniforms have proven, there is nothing going on off the court that seems to affect them.
The last two years have probably been the most tumultuous in program history. They've also been two of the most successful. If nothing else, players like Brandon Triche, Baye Matrix Keita, James Southerland and C.J. Fair will leave the program in far-better shape than how they found it. It's up to the guys after them to live up to those new expectations.