Just less than one week ago, our old friend Joe Lunardi profiled a nice piece on Syracuse basketball as it related to the NCAA Tournament bubble, a place that has become all too familiar as of late. While it looked as though Syracuse did its part to knock itself out of bubble contention with losses last week to Georgia Tech and Virginia, Syracuse did as Syracuse does and won a game (at Louisville) it probably shouldn’t have to get itself squarely back on the bubble.
With that in mind, we take a look back through the years to chronicle the history of Syracuse basketball on the NCAA Tournament bubble after the turn of the 21st century. Given my millennial vintage, anything prior predates me, to be sure.
The 2001-2002 (then) Syracuse Orangemen would climb as high as No. 7 in the nation with senior Preston Shumpert leading the charge, but ultimately Jim Boeheim’s club would falter in Big East play. The wheels fell off the wagon for this team late and despite posting a record of 23-13, Syracuse would find itself in the NIT.
Still, the nucleus of Kueth Duany, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil would all return the ensuing year to author the most important season in Syracuse basketball history.
In Gerry McNamara’s senior year, the defending Big East Tournament champs headed down to Madison Square Garden with a 19-11 record sitting squarely on the bubble. With a first round BET game against Cincinnati, that contest was talked about as more of a play-out game than a play-in game in terms of getting an at-large bid. Of course, McNamara would create some magic in Manhattan hitting the game-winner in that contest in which yours truly was just rows back from the basket where he made that shot (more on this come ACC Tournament time next month, stay tuned).
Syracuse would then go on to beat UConn in overtime and Georgetown on the following nights only to dethrone a gritty Pittsburgh team in the Big East Tournament Championship game thus earning an automatic bid to the big dance. Overrated!?
With McNamara gone to graduation, Syracuse returned most of its roster with Demetris Nichols, Terrance Roberts and Darryl Watkins providing some senior leadership. Eric Devendorf took on a more prominent role while his sophomore backcourt mate Andy Rautins made huge strides toward a breakout year. The Orange had a modest finish to the season only to be mysteriously left out of the tournament field on Selection Sunday in what is now known as the snub year. Over a decade later and people are still scratching their heads at the exclusion.
Just one year later, Syracuse brought in a stellar recruiting class but it would lose Rautins and Devendorf both to torn ACLs. The Orange would have to rely heavily on sophomores Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku as well as freshmen Donte Green and Jonny Flynn. Jim Boeheim’s team got off to a respectable start but lost seven of its final 10 games down the stretch to finish 19-13 going into Selection Sunday. The Orange would be left out of the field in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1982.
Coming off a dominant stretch of Orange basketball, this Syracuse team lost Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant to the NBA and CJ Fair to graduation. Still, the Orange rallied around much improved senior center Rakeem Christmas and anointed point-forward Michael Gbinije. Of course, this wound up being the self-imposed ban year in which the Orange finished 18-13 in its second season in the ACC. Jim Boeheim still believes Syracuse would have won a game in the ACC Tournament and made the field, but even then we can’t be so sure the Orange would have earned an at-large bid.
This Syracuse Orange team started the year hot, beating UConn and Texas A&M to win the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Those wins coupled with a road win over Duke and a home win over Notre Dame would prove to be instrumental in eventually earning an at-large bid come Selection Sunday. While Syracuse went 4-5 with Jim Boeheim serving a nine game suspension, Syracuse ultimately earned a No. 10 seed in the tournament. The Orange parlayed its invitation to the big dance all the way to the Final Four. No apologies.
Last season’s Syracuse Orange team rallied down the stretch after an ugly start to the season but ultimately dug itself too deep a hole to climb out of. Without any resume boosting wins away from the Carrier Dome, Syracuse was left out of the field and relegated to the NIT. The year started with legitimate hopes for a return trip to the Final Four, making it one of the most disappointing seasons in Syracuse basketball history.
Once again, Syracuse finds on the bubble in what should be an interesting race to the finish. While we can’t be exactly sure what to expect of this team in the win-loss column, we have a general idea of what needs to be done to get into the field of 68 come March. Should things continue down a familiar path, Syracuse should be right on the bubble at season’s end and here’s to hoping the Orange are on the right side of things when all said and done.
Switching gears, is there anything we missed? Are there any other bubble seasons that come to mind? Anything prior to the turn of the century is a bit before my time, but perhaps there are other bubble seasons lost to the sands of (damn millennials) time? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.