After the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team struggled through the early stages of the season, it was easy to create comparisons to the issues of recent years.
The 2015-16 team was 10-7 to start the season before winning eight of nine games, sneaking into the NCAA Tournament and ending up in the Final Four. In 2016-17, Syracuse also started 10-7, and then 11-9 before scoring three top 10 wins, getting back into the tournament conversation before... missing it as the last team out.
The 2017-18 squad may have skipped some of the early struggles, but racked up plenty of mid-season issues en route to ending up in the play-in game and then another surprising run, this time to the Sweet 16. Last year, SU started 7-4, but knocked off Duke in Durham and then did enough not to mess things up from there and make the NCAAs again.
Now, with some additional context in hand, it’s easy to see that we’re headed for yet another one of “these” seasons. One could argue it’s the sixth straight one, dating back to 2014-15 when the Orange went 18-13 and served a self-imposed postseason ban. And there’s an entirely different conversation as to how THAT’s all occurred.
But since an ugly 8-7 start, this Syracuse team has reeled off five straight wins, including some impressive road victories at Virginia, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, respectively. They’re at 13-7 now, and in the top four in the ACC standings. They’re also — once again — far from out of the woods just yet. Thanks to a rough-looking ACC (arguably the worst in over a decade), getting out of said woods may be Jim Boeheim’s biggest trick to-date.
And yet, he and this team could do it...
There are 11 games left and three are against top 10 teams (and two are on the road). Syracuse could pretty conceivably be favored in half of the games remaining, and with what could be a questionable bubble, there’s room for this team to close strong and make a case for unlikely inclusion once again. Hell, we’re already knocking on the door of doing so if you ask one bracketologist.
Of course, there’s a reality where it doesn’t happen, and we get there pretty easily.
Lose those three games to Duke, FSU and Louisville and start playing like the team we saw for much of the first two months of the season and that’s pretty much it. SU’s been collecting better wins and road wins of late, which is great. But without a SIGNATURE win (hey, Virginia, if you’d like to make yourselves that once again, be our guest), the road gets significantly harder. Especially when you consider the recent history we need to battle.
Because if you forgot, Syracuse has gone 2-4 to close out the last SEVEN regular seasons. While this fact remains patently insane (especially given how many times they’ve made the NCAAs in that stretch), we may have to bake it into any projections about this team. That presents a problem given the last six foes on this schedule.
I’m not going to pretend to know how this season ends, but I do know that we’ve seen this story before — one way or another. Am I excited about this fact? It’s tough to say. But at least I know how to emotionally handle whatever it is we’re seeing next.