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You're Not Required To Make a Final Judgment on Syracuse Basketball

The Syracuse Orange are in the Final Four a year after NCAA sanctions and after coming out of nowhere. It's led to a lot of BIG IDEAS about Syracuse and Jim Boeheim and what it all means. The truth can mean a lot of things.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Like millennials and LOST, I think social media culture gets a bad rap from time to time. Yes, there are bad parts of town and oh my God never go into a comment section on a news site or YouTube, but generally-speaking, most people are normal online just like they are in real life.

One aspect I've never really liked is the way it seems to have accelerated our final judgments. It's either THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION or it's THE WORST SHOW EVER. There's very little in-between these days. We like something, therefore we LOOOOOOVE it. And vice versa. It can make you feel uncomfortable if you don't have that same feeling.

I suppose that has roots in the way media has transformed in general as well. We don't get a story and then move on, we get inundated with that story for 24 hours nonstop. We get takes, we get angles, we get lists, we get comparisons, we get backlash, we get backlash to the backlash and then we forget about the whole thing by tomorrow morning.

It's especially true with sports. ESPN has deep-dived into this model and, sadly, it sounds like Fox Sports doesn't just want to emulate it but turn the dial up to eleven. That's a bummer.

All of this brings us to the Syracuse Orange, who brought the following baggage with them to the 2016 Final Four:

1. They're a year removed from receiving harsh penalties from the NCAA over numerous violations as well as self-imposing a postseason ban on themselves.

2. Jim Boeheim served a nine-game suspension earlier in the year as part of those penalties.

3. Syracuse limped into the post-season, losing five of six and ending up with a pedestrian 19-13 record, leaving many to feel the Orange did not deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The truth is, if you replaced Syracuse with Wichita State or Northern Iowa or even Gonzaga, it would be a feel-good story about a double-digit seed who bucked the odds to get to the promised land alongside some of the tournament favorites. But because it's Syracuse, and Syracuse brings all that baggage and then some, they might be the first double-digit sleeper that a large percentage of the country was actively rooting against.

That's been especially clear in the national media coverage, where up until they defeated the Virginia Cavaliers, the Orange were viewed at-best as an amusement not to be taken seriously and at-worst as a defiler of everything that is good and holy. Syracuse's victories were painted as hollow the second they happened in spite of whatever was said beforehand.

With the pelt of a one-seed now over their shoulder, the Orange can no longer be denied and many have relented and started to acknowledge that something special is happening. Others, well, others are gonna do what they do.

That baggage influences the way Syracuse is perceived and perhaps there's fairness in that. Whatever you think of the NCAA violations, if you allow smoke, people will assume there's fire even if there isn't.

But coming back to the original point, I've been wondering today whether or not the totality of everything "Syracuse Basketball" is needs to be dissected in order to explain this basketball team.

What do the NCAA violations have to do with Michael Gbinije, who wasn't even here when any of them happened?

What does Jim Boeheim's reputation have to do with the way Malachi Richardson came alive against Virginia in the second half?

What does your opinion of Syracuse: The Program mean when it comes to Trevor Cooney, a guy who has busted his ass for five years to bookend his career with Final Fours?

For some, Syracuse is THE WORST. It's EVERYTHING THAT'S WRONG WITH COLLEGE SPORTS. They don't want to see us lose on Saturday, they want to see us get ANNIHILATED.

They want this because...justice? Because wanting Tyler Lydon to have a horrible game has what, exactly, to do with any of that? I have no idea. But it makes sense to them, I'm sure.

And look, we're not immune to it. You were rooting for Duke to fail, right? You wanted them to lose in the first round if possible. Perhaps that's because you hate Grayson Allen or Coach K, but it probably also had to do with a collective idea of what Duke represents and how much you despise it.

I suppose the question I'm left with is not so much with fans but with media members who have been more than happy to crap on this team for the last two weeks for reasons that ultimately don't have anything to do with the players on the floor and their outcomes.

You can harp on and on about NCAA violations and write 2,000 word essays on it, but that had nothing to do with how Syracuse beat Dayton, Middle Tennessee, Gonzaga and Virginia.

You can talk about how "unlikable" Syracuse is but if you've actually watched any of the games you know there isn't an unlikable player in this lineup. No jerks, no criminals, no cocky a-holes, no douchey walk-ons who will spend eternity as a meme.

You can refuse to let go of the fact that Syracuse "shouldn't have been here in the first place" and, I mean, good for you if you want to die on that hill. But what a colossal waste of energy trying to deflate what has actually been an amazing turnaround by a team that was indeed one of the very last to get in. And maybe you're right. Maybe they shouldn't have gotten in. But doesn't that make their run even more amazing?

But I know. I write on the Internet every day. I know you have to find a way to be louder, angrier, more defiant and headstrong than the next person. It's the only way to get noticed (unless you're, you know, a good writer). So I understand why the need to tear Syracuse down is so powerful and enticing to so many who watch the program from afar. It's the same reason people take Jim Boeheim at face value and decide he's a heartless jerk. You work with what you're given and you work within your preconceived notions.

Like I said, I understand why some would want to root against Syracuse Basketball as an institution. And like I also said, you've got plenty of baggage to work with to make your point. Yes, Jim Boeheim has made mistakes and can be a smug SOB. Yes, the Syracuse basketball program broke rules and was punished for it. Yes, Syracuse's season was mediocre and they may or may not have truly deserved their tournament bid. You are free to use all of that in your discussions about this team. But once the ball is tipped, what does any of it have to do with anything? What does any of it have to do with those players, some of whom have been a part of the Syracuse family for roughly seven months?

All of that stuff doesn't go away. But it doesn't define the story either. I'm not saying Syracuse should be THE BEST EVER. But they don't have to THE WORST EVER either. Perhaps, like everything, they're a collection of experiences, moments, mistakes, and people caught somewhere in the middle. And what they do on Saturday vs. North Carolina doesn't necessarily justify or prove anything. It's just a basketball game played by teenagers and 20-somethings.

You can root for Syracuse AND have a problem with the way they've run their program. You can root against Syracuse and not care about what happens off-court. You can mix and match however you like. You are not required to make an extreme judgment about seven guys playing one tournament based on 40 years of experiences. If Syracuse wins, it's not a slap in the face to Truth & Justice anymore than a Syracuse loss would be a victory for Everything That Is Just.

It's a bunch of guys playing basketball. All that other noise is just you talking.