Jim Boeheim has made the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program.
Also, cheering for Orange hoops has to be one of the most maddening experiences in the world of sports.
Those are two of the few commonly agreed upon truths within Syracuse fandom.
There is an acceptance that Boeheim should be recognized for his work, his achievements, his longevity in a profession that has as much turnover as a restaurant — just ask Buffalo Bulls fans. The coach of the Orange isn’t John Wooden and he’s not Mike Krzyzewski. Jim Boeheim’s mug isn’t likely to appear on a Mount Rushmore of coaching legends despite winning over 1,000 games. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the luminaries; a couple of levels or so below Wooden and K in the pantheon.
Just the same, however, Syracuse fans all know what they sign up for on a year-to-year basis: Chaos. Sometimes the Orange will be a wire-to-wire favorite, carrying high expectations and title aspirations. But most often, especially lately, Boeheim’s teams might be as likely to make an NCAA Tournament run as they are to fritter away in the NIT. This past season alone, Syracuse was a KenPom preseason darling, but it never got into a true flow, never seemed to connect, and ultimately flamed out against Baylor last week. It was, from November through to March, simply not a fun season, for players or fans.
Boeheim and the potential for anything are what we definitively know around here.
As for the other stuff, like the future of the program?
I’d love to sit here in front of this laptop and write down the most thoughtful and intelligent points on what’s gone wrong for Syracuse and to also pinpoint where it’s likely going from here. But I just don’t have the brain capacity — I know you knew that already.
In some corners of the internet, fans call for Boeheim to step down, to allow for someone else to take over. There is a faction pointing to the talent on this past season’s roster as an example, and saying Boeheim and staff underachieved, failed. Even for myself, someone who remains in Camp Boeheim, I was perplexed at how Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone had some major issues in certain games.
No one expects Boeheim to make a change on defense, which was part of why it was so frustrating to watch the Bears nail 16 3-pointers against the Orange in round one of the NCAA tourney. The Hall of Famer knows more than most, but if other great coaches can make a few wholesale changes in order to win games, then why can’t Boeheim? At least sometimes?
It appears, fair or not, that calling for man-to-man at this point (after running zone nearly exclusively for a couple of decades) would be a sign of weakness for Boeheim. What about a box-and-one? That type of stubbornness to stick to a plan is why he has been so successful, but it also might be what holds SU back at times.
Others, of course are not there yet, and they are looking for Boeheim and company to develop the holdovers of 2018-19 and blend them with the incoming recruits. The fans in that group aren’t wrong to think that way either. Seriously, if 2018-19 was not fun to watch, then try being a Pittsburgh Panthers fan. Right? I mean, even in a strange and “off” year, the Orange still won 20 games, still made the postseason, and still found ways to make fans happy, if only for a few games. Boeheim has (cliche alert!) been here and done that many times. He’s given all of us every reason to believe that next year’s team will rebound and contend in some way or another.
There are valid reasons to be angry, frustrated, disappointed, or to feel all of those emotions combined.
Yet, there is some silver lining to be found in the cloud that enveloped the team lately.
None of which makes watching March Madness without Syracuse any easier for fans. Not that the Orange were a lock to still be playing right now. But if SU had in fact gotten past Baylor, and was able to get Frank Howard back (no lock there either), Gonzaga would have been in for a war. The Zags probably could have overpowered Syracuse in the end, but that game had down-to-the-wire written all over it. Had it, you know, actually happened...
There is a part of me that wants to delve into where Syracuse stands under Jim Boeheim. As in: are the fans saying it’s time to move along actually right? Are the fans and followers who don’t think that way a little head-in-the-sand on the topic?
The counter, though, is that this is probably what happens when coaching giants like Boeheim have a less than stellar year this far into a career. It was only about 365 days ago when Boeheim showed off his coaching acumen, seemingly proving “he’s still got it,” by guiding the Orange from the First Four to the Sweet 16. Yeah, that run overshadowed what was a so-so season (just like the 2015-16 Final Four run did too), but if college basketball is all about March, then Boeheim and SU have largely adjudicated themselves in recent years.
Syracuse hoops as we know it might be nearing the end. This could even be the end. Or it’s possible this was a rough longer-than-usual spot that will eventually be forgotten the second the Orange open the season against Virginia in the Dome next November.
I have realized through the last few months that I’m willing to listen to and consider both sides of the debate. Which in and of itself is likely telling.