Elite Eight or Final Four. Those were the conclusions we came to before the season when trying to determine how far the 2016-2017 Syracuse Orange would go.
The truth is that those predictions still seem possible, they just appear to be for the NIT, not the NCAAs.
I said back in August that the 2016-2017 SU squad proved that Jim Boeheim was mastering the machinations of modern college basketball in an attempt to go out with at least one more great run. The way he maneuvered grad transfers and depth to compensate for lost players looked like a masterstroke.
Right now it seems more like he spent the offseason putting lipstick on a pig. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford’s recent piece didn’t go over well with a lot of Orange fans but maybe he’s right. Maybe while we were focusing on the magical Final Four run, we should have been focusing on the fact that SU had a bad regular season last year and that was the real trend.
In November, when the Orange lost to South Carolina and Wisconsin and some SU fans started hitting the panic button, I tried to warn them that it was simply too soon to freak out.
Now, it feels entirely appropriate to freak out.
The mantra we’ve been telling ourselves is that last year’s team wasn’t very good but still managed to pull it all together in the NCAA Tournament for a Final Four run. So that must mean that this year’s team, which looks worlds better on paper, will run the table, or is at least capable of getting back to the holy land.
In reality, this year’s team somehow looks worse than last year’s. At this point last season, the Orange had a Battle 4 Atlantis title and two quality wins under their belt. They were able to lean on that when it came time for the NCAA Tournament and Boeheim’s boys needed a little extra boost to squeak in.
This year’s edition is facing the hard truth that they will enter ACC play with exactly zero quality wins to fall back on. Every quality or name-brand opponent they’ve played so far has defeated them. They’ve revived the old “Syracuse can’t win away from the Carrier Dome” trope and the Georgetown loss showed that even the Dome isn’t a safe haven (not even on Pearl Washington Day of all days!).
SU has Eastern Michigan, St. John’s, and Cornell as their final three non-conference games before conference play begins. So at best they’ll enter ACC competition with a 9-4 record. Their best win? The victory over Monmouth (9-2).
Sure, it’s still December and so many things can change, but the margin for error is basically gone. The padding last year’s team could rely on in March doesn’t exist this time. And now we’ve probably lost one guy to injury and most of the ones actually playing aren’t doing much to inspire hope. Or if they do, it’s a one-off experience.
We usually have plenty of questions around this point in the Syracuse Basketball season. This time, however, we’re asking so many questions we never thought we’d have to ask. Weren’t Andrew White and John Gillon supposed to be really good? Wasn’t Frank Howard supposed to make The Leap? Wasn’t Tyler Lydon supposed to be an all-the-time guy destined for the NBA Draft? Wasn’t our depth supposed to be a huge advantage?
Wasn’t this team supposed to be really good?
On paper, this was one of the best-looking Syracuse teams in years. In the results column, this team resembles the NIT-bound squads from the mid/late-00s. I honestly don’t know how it happened. What troubles me the most is that maybe the problem isn’t the team but rather what I expected of them.