Following the Syracuse Orange’s embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday, I thought about leading off Sunday morning with an article about “WHAT IT MEANS” for SU and their ability to make the NCAA Tournament this season.
It seemed inevitable that Syracuse was going to lose to Duke given the short turnaround trip to Durham on Monday night — especially given the Blue Devils’ sizeable talent advantage over SU (and most teams). A loss would’ve dropped the Orange to 11-6 overall and 2-2 in the ACC. No one expected us to be able to beat Duke going in, mind you. But given the early-season losses, the game at Cameron Indoor Arena was among the big ones that could quickly fix the resume. The opportunity was important as a future event. The assumed loss, to the No. 1 team in the nation, wasn’t necessarily problematic.
Still, instead of writing up that piece admittedly jumping to conclusions, I held off. Not because I had a feeling about an upset (I was very much a doubter). But because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about watching Syracuse basketball over the years, is that you never really know anything about the team until it’s happened — and even then, there are doubts.
Case in point:
No. 1 ranked Duke loses to unranked Syracuse 95-91 in OT.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2019
It is the first time that a top-ranked Duke team has lost at home to an unranked opponent. They were 90-0 entering tonight.
So now instead of having egg all over my face after rushing to declare the season prematurely dead over the weekend, I get to regale you with a tale of how I almost did... but didn’t. A much better reality, in my opinion.
Seriously, though, Syracuse upset No. 1 Duke, 95-91 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Arena. If that hasn’t fully sunk in just yet, take a second and think about it. No, I don’t care that Cam Reddish didn’t play, and that Tre Jones exited with an early injury. RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson are still the two most talented players in the country. Duke had plenty of firepower on the court.
A win like this has sort of become a calling card for Jim Boeheim in the twilight of his long coaching career: the upset no one expected, for the person (and program) people outside of the fan base least want it to happen for. If Syracuse was a plucky mid-major and Boeheim hadn’t been “Boeheim” these past four decades, it would probably be a beloved feature of recent seasons. Instead, it’s seen as a bug in the system; an unfortunate sideshow to the larger college basketball season that an “undeserving” Orange team will figure out a way to win the right games and squeak into the NCAA Tournament field.
We’re not in that field yet. But after the slog of the season’s first 16 games, the 17th might have been the most important toward getting there. And not just on the resume. It’s easy to see how the Orange were playing a completely different sport, essentially, versus what we saw up to this point.
SU scored just 59 points in a loss to Georgia Tech at home. They scored 95 here, and it could’ve been more if not for some easy misses near the rim. Syracuse was running, scoring in transition, and (gasp) pushing the tempo. The athletes on the floor were playing ACTUAL BASKETBALL, instead of whatever it was they were doing for most of the last five-plus seasons.
For the critics that have said Boeheim can’t change: It certainly seemed like he did here, understanding the necessity of doing so if his team had any chance to upset Duke.
The true test, of course, will be whether or not Syracuse stays at it — or if this was a one-game fluke. And that’s the maddening part. WE DON’T KNOW, like much of the rest of the ideas about this team. It’s a mystery to pretty much every human being alive, save for James Arthur Boeheim.
Because, in reality, while it would make all the sense to keep playing with tempo, it’s also sort of expected now. Before Monday night, you wouldn’t have expected Boeheim to coach this team into a more modern-looking offense, yet it happened. So if you want to define the Orange by an embrace of some sort of sped-up offense... not so fast.
That’s what’s really defined Syracuse fandom for most of Boeheim’s tenure, but especially the last decade or so. Whatever you think will happen won’t, whether good or bad. Whatever you doubt can be the most likely outcome of all. The last 12 months proved that over and over, especially in the most recent surprise tournament run for this program, and Monday night’s upset win (which started with the sort of 12-0 deficit this team isn’t really designed to erase).
To those that think the season’s “saved” at this point: Hold your horses. There’s still a lot of basketball left to play, and one win at Duke doesn’t just fix everything. Unless it does. Because once again: We don’t know anything about Syracuse basketball. And it’s unlikely we ever will, at least with Boeheim at the helm. That’s (probably) just fine.