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For Syracuse being so unlikable, this 2017-2018 Syracuse basketball team is one of the most likable

For an era of Syracuse being unliked by so many, these guys individually and as a collective sure are a likable bunch.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve heard all the takes and you’ve cut through all the noise. To many, Syracuse is just unlikeable. Jim Boeheim is a miserable old curmudgeon, he routinely makes snide remarks to the media, he bashes his players, he’s always yelling, he’s a nose-picking cheater. Never mind the fact that most of those people calling him a cheater couldn’t give a reasonable explanation as to why they think he is. He just is!

Syracuse plays that gimmicky 2-3 zone. The Syracuse offense is akin to watching grass grow. We’d rather watch paint dry. You cheat in college basketball and you get rewarded for it! What a joke!

These days it seems as though nobody wants to see Syracuse win. Whether we just choose to perpetually read into the negativity that the national media seems to toss our way or whether it truly is Syracuse against the world, from the inside it’s hard to deny the ironic gulf between how hated Syracuse is from the outside and how likable this 2017-2018 Syracuse basketball team is from the inside.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-Syracuse vs. Arizona State Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The chasm couldn’t be wider.

While this isn’t exactly something that can be quantified, it doesn’t take an emotional genius to realize the Syracuse fans have gravitated to this team throughout the year and loved it like a newborn. These guys play with such heart, such passion. The Sweet 16 berth is just the icing on the cake.

The circumstances surrounding this team have been well documented to this point, viz., starting with limited scholarships, losing players to graduation, NBA, transfer, injury and god knows what other reasons. It’s hard to be mad at the guys on the team for that. You can live with losing a bit knowing full well that these guys have battled to the best of their ability in every game.

Tyus, Oshae and Frank have been running for 40 minutes every game for some time. When this team experiences shortcomings it isn’t for a lack of effort.

“I think this year, we generally like each other. We really jell well as a team. I think we’re definitely going to surprise people. All of the guys get after it every day in practice, every time we step on the floor we go hard. I think we really accepted what we have to do to win this year, which is be a defensive stopping team,” Tyus Battle said at ACC Media Day before the season started.

Tyus was spot on from day one and you can see how close these guys are. That manifests itself on the court. Chemistry and trust are so important to the integrity of and effectiveness in the 2-3 zone. Do you think these guys would have held three of the top offenses in the country all under 60 points in the NCAA Tournament if that weren’t the case? We can’t be so sure.

Syracuse v Michigan State Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Nobody else has worn likability better than Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse’s freshman forward from Slovakia. Dolezaj hasn’t just donned likability like a badge of honor, he’s personified it. The kid weights 180 lbs soaking wet with rocks in his pockets but plays every game as if he’ll never see another basketball again in his life. Just when you think he’s outmatched physically, Dolezaj makes some unbelievable block or rushes in for a crucial offensive rebound to earn another possession.

He’ll drop 20 points on you from out of nowhere, deny a media interview on national television and then dip off into the night with an entire pizza to himself. If that doesn’t make you like him, nothing else will.

Other teams will forget about Dolezaj on the court while they put their collective blinders on, keeping the focus on the other three mainstays and then all of a sudden Dolezaj is dropping threes, mid-range jumpers and floaters on you and the next thing you know he’s putting ‘Syracuse’ upside down on NCAA Tournament bracket as the Orange win and advance. How could you not love this guy?

And it’s not just Dolezaj. These guys have all fought their hardest and remained competitive in nearly every game. That’s all we can really ask for — to have this kind of success in this kind of season given all the loss and hardship is purely unrealistic. But that’s all so very Syracuse and that’s all so very Jim Boeheim.

You give every single thing that you can to this game and fight to the bitter end. That goes for life too. So while everyone on the outside doesn’t seem to like Syracuse, Jim Boeheim, the 2-3 zone or the Syracuse offense, that’s fine. There’s enough love on the inside to keep this thing going.