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History says don’t count Syracuse basketball out just because they’re unranked

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Ends up the Orange predictions don’t always tell the story of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team didn’t receive a single vote in this year’s AP preseason poll. Nor did its name appear in the USA Today preseason coaches poll. With only three scholarship players that suited up last season for the Orange, there are many questions and unknowns regarding the 2017-18 squad, thus the lack of preseason hype surrounding the team.

But based on past results, that could be a good sign.

If one looks at Syracuse basketball’s season-by-season results over the past 15 years, there is a common trend: the team’s performance often differs significantly from preseason expectations or its NCAA Tournament seeding, whether it’s for better or for worse. Below are nine recent seasons that exemplify this trend.

2002-03

Syracuse came into the 2002-03 season unranked in the preseason poll. The team lacked experience and featured just one senior, Kueth Duany. The starting lineup was rounded out by sophomores Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth, and freshmen, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. It wasn’t until January 14 — nine weeks into the season — that the Orangemen made an appearance in the poll at No. 25. However, thanks to an All-American season by Anthony, and major contributions from Warrick and McNamara, SU would enter the NCAA Tournament with a 24-5 record and secure a No. 3 seed. The rest is history.

2004-05

The Orange, led by Warrick and McNamara, were ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll, and would remain in the top 10 until late February. Syracuse would begin the Big East Tournament ranked No. 16 in the country with a 24-6 record, and would then capture a conference tournament title. Although at the time looking the part of their preseason expectations, players and fans alike were shocked when the Orange, a No. 4 seed, were upset by No. 13 seeded Vermont. (sorry for bringing this up)

2006-07

At the beginning of the 2006-07 season, the Orange were ranked No. 20, boasting a lineup that included seniors Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts, and Darryl Watkins, plus highly-touted underclassmen like Andy Rautins, Eric Devendor and Paul Harris. However, SU struggled early on due to injuries and player unavailability, eventually dropping out of the Top 25 in mid-December. Despite a stronger finish to the end of the season, Syracuse would miss out on the NCAA Tournament, and then fall in the NIT Tournament quarterfinals.

2008-09

To start the 2008-09 season, the Orange flew under the radar unranked in the preseason poll, in part due to an underwhelming 2007-08 NIT campaign. However SU, led by Devendorf and sophomore Johnny Flynn, would win 17 of it first 19 games, and make an appearance in the Top 25 at No. 16 on New Year’s Day. Syracuse climbed as high as No. 8 in mid-January, but sat in the bottom half of the Top 25 to for the rest of the regular season. But after a trip to the Big East Tournament title game (a couple games after the 6 OT game), SU secured the No. 3 seed in the NCAAs. They eventually falling to Oklahoma in the Sweet 16.

2009-10

Like the season before, the 2009-10 Orange began unranked. Even worse, the team lost to Division II Le Moyne in a preseason exhibition game. Flynn, Devendorf, and Harris each had declared for the NBA Draft, leaving Syracuse without its top three scorers from the year before. But with Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson (the team’s leading scorer) and offseason improvements from players like Kris Joseph, SU knocked off three top-15 opponents in non-conference play. They were ranked No. 5 as the Big East schedule began, and stayed among the top seven for the rest of the regular season (even sitting at No. 1 for a while). Losing Arinze Onuaku in the Big East Tournament led to a Sweet 16 loss to Butler. But the Orange still well out-paced expectations.

Syracuse v Dayton Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

2013-14

Despite losing Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams from the previous year’s Final Four appearance, predictions saw Syracuse as a top-10 team anyway. Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair eventually led the Orange to the No. 1 ranking on the strength of a 25-game winning streak. But Syracuse eventually suffered a collapse to end the season, losing six of its final nine games, beginning with a loss to ACC bottomfeeder Boston College and most surprisingly ending with a loss to 11-seed Dayton in the NCAA Tournament.

2014-15

Despite beginning the season ranked No. 23, the 2014-15 season ended up being, for Syracuse basketball, one of the more disappointing years in recent history. The Rakeem Christmas-led team was a one-man show following a ton of departures, and went an unimpressive 9-4 in non-conference play. They started to rebound, winning six of ther first nine ACC games. But on February 4, the program self-imposed a postseason ban and there went the season. The Orange, with little to play for, would then finish the season 18-13, Jim Boeheim’s first year under 20 wins since 1997.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Syracuse vs North Carolina Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16

Following a dispiriting 2014-15, Syracuse entered the 2015-16 season outside of the Top 25. But riding the hot shooting of its strong core — Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson — SU won its first six games to start the season. Struggling through Boeheim’s nine-game suspension, they were ranked just briefly and closed the regular season at 19-12. As you well know, they’d go all the way to the Final Four (with a huge Virginia win included there), before falling to North Carolina.

2016-17 season

The months leading up to the 2016-17 season for Syracuse were surrounded by increasing hype and high expectations. Top-100 recruits Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson, and Matthew Moyer joined the team, as did transfers John Gillon and Andrew White III. In September, Jim Boeheim told ESPN “This is the best team we’ve had in a long time.”

Instead, Syracuse would sink to as low as 11-9 in January, and despite later vanquishing ranked opponents Florida State, Virginia, and Duke, the Orange were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament on a lack of quality road wins, and bad losses. They were NIT-bound instead.

***

Although not always the case, Syracuse’s season-by-season results since the 2003 national championship have frequently differed from preseason predictions, whether it’s in a negative way as a result of injuries, unavailable players, or a lack of team chemistry, or in a positive way because of underrated freshmen or unexpected offseason improvements. While it may just be a coincidence, with all of the meager expectations for the 2017-18 team, it can also be a glimmer of hope.