Coming off of a blowout loss at Notre Dame, the Syracuse Orange were 11-9 overall and 3-4 in the ACC. They had maybe one quality win (Miami) and a slew of bad losses (Boston College, St. John’s, Georgetown).
Since then, they’ve won three straight, and now stand at 14-9 and 6-4 in league play. Despite the early-season struggles, they now possess several quality wins, an upset over Florida State and even a road win (via last night’s improbable comeback).
Can Syracuse, like Cal, get right back in this?
On Monday, we talked about seeing wins like FSU before. And that the impact would be defined by what happened after the upset. There are still a lot of games to go (eight, actually), but I think we’re starting to see where this could be headed.
The Orange, thought to be left for dead, are alive. They may not be well -- and you can look at some second half struggles and defensive lapses for proof of that. But this is not a team that plans to wilt away in the latter half of this schedule. Despite the different cast of characters, they’re similar to last year’s team in a lot of ways (and completely opposite in others).
Playing the role of grizzled veterans aren’t familiar seniors like Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooeny. It’s fifth-year transfers Andrew White III and John Gillon. The two have been dynamic the past two games, on both ends of the floor. They’ve combined for 116 points (out of the team’s 182) in the last two games.
Playing the role of Malachi Richardson is... also John Gillon or Andrew White. Clutch late shooting, an ability to shift the tide of the game on a whim, and acompetitive streaks that seem to be fueled by the odds stacking against them.
Tyler Lydon is Tyler Lydon, though a better version of himself. You could probably consider him a grizzled veteran at this point too, given his experience and key role to this lineup’s success.
In any case, this Syracuse team isn’t going away, much to the chagrin of college basketball. This is no time to apologize -- not just yet anyway. And we have a long way to go. But the seeds are being planted for what could be the Orange’s most wild finish in years.
Four of the last eight are on the road. Four of the last eight are also against ranked teams. On Saturday, Syracuse faces off with Virginia in an Elite Eight rematch from last year, with Jim Boeheim’s 1,000th win in the balance. The Orange play five games on national television in the next month.
College basketball media has been writing off Syracuse for months. They should’ve been. We have been too, if we’re being honest. The Orange had shown us nothing through even 20 games that said they had what it took to become a very good team again.
They still may not be. But they’ve shown enough glimmers to make this interesting. If we should’ve learned anything from last year’s Final Four run, it’s that Jim Boeheim is not one to be counted out. And despite his curmudgeonly exterior and outward dislike of change, he’s found ways to adapt and modernize his methods toward the end of his career. These teams -- especially this year and last year -- don’t follow the script you’ve known.
Leave Syracuse for dead all you’d like. But they won’t be going along with the narrative. We should’ve known better. The rest of college basketball should start prepping those hate columns once again.