Shortly after the Syracuse Orange’s loss to Georgia Tech last night, USA Today’s Dan Wolken weighed in with a take about Jim Boeheim that’s sure to rankle many SU fans...
Hot take: If not for a fluky Final Four run two years ago, the narrative on Jim Boeheim would be that he’s way past his prime and should retire. A lot of mediocre lately.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 1, 2018
Wolken frames it as a “hot take,” and indeed it is. The basis for the idea, obviously, is that the Orange have been in the midst of a regular season rough patch — arguably the longest of the Hall of Fame coach’s career. Since the start of 2014-15, Syracuse has lost 13 games or more each season (three of only six times total since Boeheim started). This season could very well be the fourth. The lone, true bright spot in there is the Final Four trip that Wolken mentions.
Was it a combination of luck, SU’s hot shooting at the right time, and some excellent defensive coaching that got them there? Absolutely. But fluky? Hardly.
At that point, it was the Orange’s seventh NCAA Tournament bid in eight years, and they were a top-four seed in most of those. Boeheim had also gotten Syracuse — with some of the same players as the 2016 team -- to the Final Four just a few years earlier, too. The regular season may have been off-balance, sure. But they’re far from the only program to catch fire in March.
When you look at Final Four bids since 2006, 11 different teams have made it to the Final Four as a 5-seed or lower (as in 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11...). One of those teams, UConn, won it all in 2014. Another, George Mason, is still celebrated as what makes this postseason great. And Butler, in there twice, has also become a symbol of how much of a (fun, I guess?) crapshoot the whole thing is.
But not Syracuse. As we mentioned at the time, we’re VERY SORRY, AMERICA. And the cries about SU making that Final Four continue since. Weird things happen in a 68-team tournament. We’ve fallen victim to them many times. For once, we came out on the positive end.
Wolken’s critique also sits in a bubble, completely ignoring the other factors that caused this unique downturn — which, itself, is magnified by just how successful Jim has been over the years. Near-perennial 20-win teams, long a conference championship contender. Occasional spurts as a national power, but not enough to solidify us as a blueblood. Getting back on track, though...
Syracuse’s recent rough patch, and it is one, is not something that just “happened.” NCAA sanctions brought scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions that we’ll only truly be out of next year. Unexpected early departures from Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis to Malachi Richardson and Chris McCullough threw roster construction out of wack even more in that stretch. Players declare for the draft after the recruiting period. So departures like that are not only hard to account for, they’re near-impossible to replace.
In there too are the transfers, of which there were several too.
This is all in Boeheim’s purview, mind you. But if that’s true, then to say it doesn’t affect Syracuse’s ability to put together quality regular seasons is silly. Programs that deal with things like this are rarely able to get back to the Final Four once in that stretch, never mind twice.
And looking ahead, this year was always supposed to build toward next season’s potentially greater success. We have an excellent recruiting class inbound, with at least another spot available too. This year’s team is young and has dealt with plenty of injuries. They’ll be more experienced next year, and are adding a top-10 recruit in Darius Bazley, plus a true point guard in Jalen Carey.
Syracuse will inevitably be fine.
Wolken’s intent here is to rile, and rile he has. To comment that Syracuse has been through a weird stretch that’s only buoyed by a Final Four is a fair one. But “past his prime?” “Calls to retire?” The narrative on Jim, as always, is his own. And if you asked him just this week, he’d probably tell you that you’re “full of shit.”