Hey, we're getting close to the Syracuse basketball season! And as we get even closer, we can also take this time to get more prepared for what we'll see on the court. With all the changes this offseason, what we'll see is going to be a WHOLE lot different than what we saw last year, so might as well start getting down to the questions and issues that this team is going to face.
The TNIAMM hoops staff will be chatting all about the biggest questions, burning issues and interesting ideas around the Syracuse Orange up until tipoff vs. Kennesaw State on November 14. This week:
Expectations are more tempered for Syracuse basketball than previous years, which could be a hint of this team falling back to the pack, or an opportunity to fly under the radar and surprise. But with those adjusted expectations comes a confusion among the Orange fan base: What constitutes a "successful" season with more modest initial hype? And on the flip side, what constitutes "failure" for this young team in 2014-15?
That's a tough question. Part of me feels that, for this to be a successful season, Syracuse has to at least reach the Sweet 16. But if that's the case, it would mean that last season -- one that saw the Orange start 25-0 and achieve the No. 1 ranking in the nation -- was a failure. And I don't see last season as a failure. Not when, at least at one point, Syracuse fans had reason to believe their team could perhaps make a second straight Final Four. So that's how I'll determine if this season is a success. If the Orange give us reason to believe they have a real chance -- whether that be a chance to win the ACC or to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament -- I'll consider it a successful season.
I think that program tradition, no matter what the roster looks like as far as talent, experience etc., will forever trump what a team looks like on paper heading into a season, especially when considering a program like Syracuse. This team may be young, but it has some experience and there is no doubt it is a group of talented individuals. Especially in recent years, youth and inexperience have helped propel the Orange to great heights. The past two seasons have featured a first year starting point guard and both played major roles in the team's success. MCW helped lead the Orange to a Final Four and consistent play throughout the season by Tyler Ennis helped the Orange have the best start to a season in program history. In my mind the expectations for this team will never change, a successful season being one where they are competitive in conference play and make the NCAA tournament. If they fail to qualify for the Big Dance, it would be considered a failure.
Let's start with the "worst case" scenario first, because I am the Negative Ned here. If Syracuse fails to make the tournament, that's a giant fail. Even with starting two freshman and a sophomore who might as well be a freshman, all Jim Boeheim does is make tournaments. I know someone is scoffing to themselves, "What about '07 and '08?" Well, those are the outliers, my friend. Even if it's a one-and-done flame-out, SU has to, at the very least, make the Big Dance. Anything less -- assuming the NCAA doesn't hammer the program and cause a massive distraction and there aren't any catastrophic injuries -- would be uncivilized.
As for the flip side of this coin? You know, I actually think this team may be the reverse of last season: struggle early and find itself late. I know the schedule is fairly light, but we may see the Orange drop games at Villanova and Michigan and SU could lose to a couple of decent teams in the Garden, too. But with so much youth and so many new faces in old places, by March this could be an under-seeded juggernaut of sorts. Twenty-plus wins is a given, an invite to the madness is a lock, but wild success this year could be in the form of watching a team gel in time to create real damage to people's brackets -- bizarro 2013-14. A trip to the Sweet 16, especially with an 8 seed or so, would probably qualify for success.
Very tricky answer here because everyone's expectations have different levels of rigidity to them. Here's how I feel...given the recent success of the program and the high level at which we have been recruiting in the past decade, I expect any team wearing a Syracuse uniform to win 20+ games and go to the NCAA Tournament. Anything less then that is a failure (all else being equal). Given the fact that we're coming off of a stretch that includes a Final Four and multiple stints at No. 1 in the nation, the bar is certainly even higher than that. We know going in that this team isn't expected to hit those highs, so I would say that success is making it to the NCAAs as a 6-seed or higher. Failure would be to miss the tournament altogether. As for the in-between...I guess it all depends on why we ended up there.
Success: Tough call here. On the one hand, a Sweet 16 berth for a team barely projected to be in the top 25 should be a success, right? The team loses a ton from last year's squad and has to depend on a ton of inexperience to come together and deliver better results than 2013-14's veteran group. But at the same time, should that matter anymore? At times, I have an irrational faith in this program and a delusional belief that they're a Final Four contender each and every season. If Kentucky and Duke can be title favorites under similar circumstances to what we're dealing with right now, why can't Syracuse?
If that sounded complicated, "failure" is much simpler to define: first-round (second round?) exit. If this team is one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament at this point, it's an unmitigated failure, regardless of seeding. That's non-negotiable at this point, no?