All season long, the Syracuse Orange have dealt with depth issues and injuries. We know this, even if the rest of the country’s not necessarily empathetic to that situation.
And while it’s created some difficulties for SU all year, it’s also been a golden opportunity to get some early burn for young players. This could’ve gone terribly wrong for the Orange. Instead, we’re playing the NCAA Tournament.
You might have suspected this Syracuse team was younger than most previous years’, and it ends up that’s correct. In fact, it’s the youngest and least experienced Orange team to ever make it to the tourney.
We’re measuring that by looking at the players that grab the lion’s share of minutes in a given season, compared to their year and previous contributions on the team.
Looking at 39 different March Madness trips between 1957 and this year, this is the only one with four freshmen in the regular rotation, and one of just two without a senior (the other was the 2004 team). Having more than one freshman hasn’t even been that common either. Just 10 of these tournament teams had more than one frosh in the regular rotation (top seven), and 11 didin’t have any freshmen at all. Some of those are assisted by NCAA rules that prohibited freshmen from playing on the varsity team. But most were actually in more recent seasons.
Just four Orange squads had three or more freshmen, including this year’s. The others were 2016 (obviously went to Final Four), 2011 (second round loss to Marquette) and 2003 (national champs, obviously). So two-thirds of the time we bring three freshmen to the tournament we make the Final Four? I like our odds...
In other curiosities looking at the numbers, just two teams (2016, 1989) didn’t have a sophomore in the rotation, and every single team has had at least one junior. The most season with the most concentrated players in one class is the 1956 team’s five seniors. But in more modern history, four is the high bar. That belongs to this year’s freshmen, the juniors in 2009, 2006, 1994 and 1992, plus the sophomores in 1988.
This year’s team also has the fewest juniors and seniors (two) since 2003’s title team. They’re the only seasons where Syracuse has had fewer than three combined juniors and seniors on a tournament squad.