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Syracuse basketball, reality and expectations

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It might be best to deviate from fantasy land.

Big East Basketball Tournament - Syracuse v Louisville Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In case you missed it, last week we had a piece regarding CBS’s prognostication of the Syracuse Orange finishing twelfth in the ACC this season. That wasn’t for football — the prediction was for the Syracuse basketball team to finish third from last in the conference, and you know what? That’s tremendous.

It was talked about ad nauseam last season, but the 2016-2017 Syracuse team was supposed to be one of Jim Boeheim’s best. Coming off a surprise Final Four run, Syracuse returned a few key players, brought on two fifth-year graduate transfers and had a 7-foot-2 center finally eligibile. The zone was supposed to be elite.

Except it wasn’t. The Orange made a run at it but ultimately fell short of the NCAA Tournament and fizzled out against Ole Miss in the NIT. Why did last year feel like such a colossal disappointment?

Expectation.

When the bar is set so high, it seems inevitable that the only place left to go is down. The feeling was synonymous in 2010 and 2012 — the former was one of the best Syracuse teams I’ve ever seen, quite plausibly the best in the last decade. It seemed that Boeheim had a national title in his sights. That is until Arinze Onuaku went down in the Big East Tournament and Syracuse eventually fell to Butler in the Sweet 16.

The parallels were all too similar in 2012. Syracuse was unquestionably one of, if not the best team in the nation that year (Kentucky), until once again it lost its starting center heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Orange eventually lost to Ohio State in the Elite 8.

Those two seasons felt like robbery; somebody else took what was supposed to be Syracuse’s. Except for nothing actually belonged to Syracuse in the first place.

That feeling, again, is derived from expectation. As terrible as 2010 and 2012 felt, 2013 and especially 2016 felt like nirvana. It was akin to getting away with murder. Nobody expected Syracuse to reach the Final Four in either of those years, not even the most partial Syracuse fans.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? It might be best to have a firm understanding of how tough it is to win in college basketball and to place an emphasis on setting realistic expectations.

That’s not to say Syracuse shouldn’t reach for the stars and try to win every game it’s in next year. Jim and his team will most certainly do that, but it’s not realistic to expect to win every game.

Personally, my expectations for next season have already been set. I truly don’t think it’s realistic for Syracuse to make the NCAA Tournament given the roster turnover, losing a top assistant and having so much youth on the team. Although I don’t expect Syracuse to finish twelfth in the ACC, I do foresee Syracuse making the NIT for a second straight year. With that said, I wouldn’t put it past Jim to sneak these guys into the field of 68, either. He’s a bona fide Hall of Fame coach who seems to do his best work when he’s counted out. Crazier things have happened.

But just don’t go setting the bar too high, it might be best for your sanity. Being a Syracuse devotee already causes volatile waves of emotion as it is.