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Syracuse basketball: They are who we thought they were

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We told ourselves this team was more than they were probably capable of.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not guaranteed just yet, but we’re probably facing the inevitability of an NIT bid.

Going into the BC game, the Syracuse Orange likely needed four wins in four games to feel secure in our chances as an NCAA Tournament team. We lost against BC, so... that’s sort of it. There’s still a chance for the NCAAs, obviously. The Orange have strong computer numbers, even without a great Tier 1 record or a true marquee one (Miami’s our closest). However, without getting to the ACC Tournament semifinals, I’m not banking on participating in March Madness.

That’s the easy part to accept at this point, I’d think. The tougher part is to say that it’s fine.

Look back to early November, and the signs were there. The feelings were too, even on our end as a fan base. Most of the TNIAAM staff thought NIT (for once, I was actually among the optimists in the group). Polling the community yielded similar results. SU was simply too young, too offensively-challenged and too overmatched by the top of the ACC to do anything of note this year.

And as always, the season actually happened, and all of that went out the window.

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

The Orange won their first six games, and looked fairly good doing so. They challenged Kansas for about a half, but couldn’t hit enough shots to make it a game. There were clear signs of trouble during a four-game winning streak, but we ignored them because this team looked like it could close with the best of them.

Syracuse lost to St. Bonaventure. Just two games later, they’d smother Virginia Tech. We were “back.”

And then we lost four straight in increasingly brutal fashion.

Beating teams like Miami and Louisville on the road fooled us into thinking this team was something it wasn’t. So did other victories. And maybe, this team WAS something greater than what is likely to end up an NIT squad. Injuries and inexperience and offensive ineptitude will end up the stories of the 2017-18 season. But we’ll always have a fair share of “what if” on our minds. “What if” around games like Wake Forest, NC State, Notre Dame and Florida State that all got away. The loss to the Bonnies. Injuries to Bourama Sidibe and Matthew Moyer. The unexpected departures of both Taurean Thompson (offseason) and Geno Thorpe (in-season).

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Those “what ifs” play in fantasy, however. They assume a reality we didn’t inhabit during this season, even when we were winning some unexpected games. Syracuse should be commended for what it’s pulled off this season. Jim Boeheim largely trotted out a five-player MASH unit of young players all season, and he got 18 wins out of them in 30 games. Only three of those players could truly score. And those three would also average nearly 40 minutes per night, yet still go another 40 over and over.

This isn’t to declare the season prematurely over. Or write off this team, or the coach that’s gotten more out of them than he probably ever should have. It’s to acknowledge that perspective can be helpful in times of disappointment like the one most of us had last night when Syracuse fell to Boston College on the road.

At the end of one of our most arduous seasons in recent memory, this team appears gassed, as even Boeheim seemed to acknowledge last night. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed. It just means we’ve reached the end of what they can do well. You saw it in the defensive struggles. No matter the age or fitness of players, it’s simply impossible to ask them to put out maximum effort for this length of time.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t need to be told that. But you may need to take some solace in the fact that it’s fine. Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett being tired is fine. The defense showing some cracks is fine. Falling short of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year is also fine, when you consider the circumstances that created it; plus what came before (a Final Four) and what comes after (renewed depth and another talented roster).

This Syracuse team hasn’t failed. They are who we thought they were, to quote the late Dennis Green. Given the injuries and all, we should probably be glad they were even able to hit that bar.

And if for some reason, this team ends up going on some miracle run starting this Saturday... well THAT’s who we thought they were. No, seriously. That’s my story. And decades from now, it’ll likely be yours, too.