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Syracuse Basketball: Explaining The Unexplained

Everyone seems hellbent on criticizing Syracuse, but I'm here to praise rather than bury the Orange. I think I am, anyway.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

When my three-year old son asks me something, anything, I try to simplify my answer to its easiest-to-understand response.

"Daddy, what are fossils?"

Well, they're really old bones found deep in the ground, Brady.

I think that's sufficient enough, right? I mean, sure, I could get into paleontology, or dinosaurs, or how bones, even ours some day, fossilize over time. Hell, what about mummies?! For now, though, I think Brady has a foundation to work from and I feel pretty good being able to provide those small building blocks for him. Honestly, when you're explaining something totally foreign to someone, every question can become complicated quickly.

"Where's New York, Daddy?"

Well, it's in the United States...

"Where's the United States?"


I'm not sure if it's an inherent "parent thing," but I routinely start every reply to his questions with, "Well."

Weeellll, no, girls don't have a penis, Brady. (Switching the term from Peterbug to penis was a whole other ordeal, by the way!)

I'm telling you, trying to un-complicate things can be tricky.

It's actually a lot like the way I've had to explain my thoughts on this 2013-14 season for the Syracuse Orange. Every time I check Facebook or Twitter, it seems like someone is either jumping off the Orange ledge or they're a non-Syracuse fan ripping SU for another "Almost Loss." I usually just want to scream, Are you kidding me?! to each and every one of them. How could you complain about 26 wins in 28 games, about a team that's played injured, about a team that's still very much in line for a one seed and a long run in the NCAA tournament?

You expect anyone in Syracuse orange to apologize for winning?

(Side Note Rant: Can someone please explain how Syracuse's losing DaJuan Coleman for the entire year and having to deal with Baye Moussa Keita's injury and now Jerami Grant missing time isn't a big story line?)

But before I respond to posts or tweets I remember: it's complicated.

Some Orange fans are tired of "barely winning" because, well, heart attacks aren't fun. Plus, eking out games against the likes of N.C. State and Maryland, and Miami...and EVERYONE makes it seem like Syracuse is more lucky than good -- a fairly run-into-the-ground narrative.

Then there's the non-Orange fan out there. The one seemingly waiting with bated breathe for Syracuse to fall flat on its face. Generally those are either fans of another program, most likely Georgetown or Connecticut (maybe another ACC program), or they're people who grew up in and around Northern/Central New York and for some reason decided it was "cooler" to hate SU. Those people are sick of this Syracuse Renaissance because they remember the NIT days or the first-round flameouts and hate the fact that SU is now an annual Four-Four contender.

So, in late February, with a team that's 13-2 in the ACC, what is up with Syracuse?


The SU fan really should be sick of close games. The last five, by the way, have been one-possession games with less than 15 seconds to play! Read that again, because it almost seems impossible for it to be true. Frustrating and annoying and draining and frustrating, and did I mention frustrating? In all reality, there has probably been five or six times that Syracuse won a game and it still felt like a loss, and that can cause anyone to see more of the negative than of the positive.

And I get that sentiment.

Then there are those anti-Syracuse groups with all the fuel they'll ever need siphoned up when the Orange, undefeated and ranked number one in all of the land, lost to Boston Freakin' College. Winning ugly and winning close are explainable, losing to the Eagles is entirely inexplicable. A number one team has never lost to a team with 19 or more losses, that's really bad. How can a top-tier team play around with so many inferior teams?

A totally legit question.

Both sides, all involved, seem angry right now; chips on shoulders growing bigger by nail-biting game. SU fans have been through the ringer, while non-fans are sick of the near fails.

So, here's where I try to simplify it all down to make this complicated answer as easy to understand as possible.

Syracuse is one of the best in a bunch that could still end up losing to just about anyone.

The Orange is really damn good, a team that can without question make the Final Four and may even cut down the nets in Dallas-Fort Worth. Yet, just the same, the Orange could certainly get beat in the Sweet 16, like every other team out there.

The difference between heavyweight and challenger is nearly nonexistent. Everything is all about match-ups, and the wrong one for the favorite will spell the end. Something true for Syracuse along with Kansas, Florida, Arizona, Michigan State, Duke and Wichita State, as we'll all see in March.

While the Orange is better than just about 98 percent of the rest of college hoops, it's separated by just a single hair. Maddening for most of us watching this crazy theater play itself out. Maddening that we'll have to wait for the Madness to finally resolve these lingering questions about Syracuse, about this entire crazy season.

I guess the water is still muddy when it comes to figuring this all out.

But the good news, or bad news depending on where you fall, Syracuse will enter the tournament with a whole lot more wins than losses. Way more Ws than a lot of the other teams out there. And there's something I can easily explain: No matter when or how it's accomplished, winning is always better than losing, no matter what anyone says.