With college basketball set to tip off this Wednesday, you’ve likely been bloated with basketball content for weeks now. So, you’d be forgiven if you missed a deep dive from CBS Sports which ranked Syracuse as the 11th-best college basketball program.
Matt Norlander and the college basketball crew over at CBS have been churning out some interesting hoops reading leading up to the start of the (delayed) season, including an in-depth look at the 68 best programs in the history of the sport.
Before you opine on Syracuse’s ranking, understand that there was a methodology at play. Here’s the point criteria used to determine the best programs since 1939 (the beginning of the NCAA Tournament in earnest):
- NCAA Tournament championships (20 points)
- Final Four appearances without a national title (10 points)
- Regular-season titles (5 points)
- Elite Eights without making the Final Four (3 points)
- NIT titles (3 points)
- NCAA Tournament bids (2 points)
- Wins (0.5 points)
- Losses (-0.5 points)
- Wins over ranked opponents (0.5 points)
- Weeks ranked (0.1 point)
- Top-10 NBA picks (5 points)
- 11-30 NBA picks (3 points)
- 31-60 NBA picks (1 point)
Syracuse scored 873 points. While we could split hairs over the methodology, that’s about as fair and comprehensive as you could aspire to be when judging college basketball programs. The programs ahead of Syracuse are, in order from one to 10: Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kansas, Louisville, Indiana, UConn, Villanova and Cincinnati, respectively.
Perhaps a noteworthy caveat to these rankings is the fact that every program ranked in front of Syracuse sans Duke has had at least three head coaches in the time that Boeheim has been coaching at SU; Boeheim has been coaching Syracuse for well over half of the 81-year history used in the methodology. An interesting excerpt from Norlander (and you can read the full piece here):
“Jim Boeheim would never take sole credit for this, but let’s come correct: He’s more responsible for his team’s placement on this list than any coach at any school. That’s because Boeheim has set a men’s Division I record for longest affiliation with any school in history. He played at Syracuse, and when you include his playing days and time as an SU assistant, Boeheim has spent all but nearly three years of his adult life at SU. Fifty-four of his 76 years on this soil involve him with the program. He is Orange through thick and thin — and yes there have been controversies, highs and lows and chapters upon chapters of SU hoops history. ... He’s won 1,069 games in 44 seasons (though more than 100 have been taken off the books).”
This begets the question: Is Syracuse a top basketball program or has Syracuse had a top basketball coach? It’s impossible to say with full certainty as Boeheim is set to begin his 45th season at the helm at SU. We likely won’t have an answer to that question until long after his coaching career is finished.
Some programs on this list such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas have figured out how to move on from a Hall of Fame coach (or multiple) and remain successful. Whereas others such as Indiana and UCLA (it might be too early to accurately judge UConn) haven’t quite figured that out yet.
Boeheim has been in charge from 1976 until present. In that time, Syracuse has gone from an independent to achieving national prominence through the Big East and now to the ACC. Judging Syracuse as a program before Boeheim doesn’t provide much evidence on how the program will perform after, yet we won’t truly know what the program could become until the next hire.
What happens after Boeheim depends on who Syracuse is willing to bring in. Can SU stay within the family and have success? Indiana and UConn had immediate achievements following the departures of Bob Knight and Jim Calhoun, but both replacements which were hired from within fell just as quick as they rose.
On the other side of the coin, North Carolina has found prosperity in Dean Smith protégé Roy Williams. Kansas has remained a top program in the sport hiring Bill Self, who was mentored by Larry Brown at KU. Villanova elected to hire a Rollie Massimino assistant following Massimino’s departure. The program took a dip, but not before being revitalized by another former Massimino assistant in Jay Wright.
Is Syracuse willing to hire someone from outside the family? Duke hired Mike Krzyzewski without having ties to the program. On the other hand, Indiana went outside and hired Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean, which proved to be less than stellar hires. There’s no exact formula to follow here.
Replacing legendary coaches is more of an art than it is a science (although you could contest it’s not much of an art form, either). It’s hard to discern what Syracuse is or can be without Boeheim. The Carrier Dome is iconic and it has a passionate fan base, to say the least. Syracuse should find a level of support to be within the ballpark of relevancy in college basketball. But it doesn’t take a wild imagination to envision Syracuse taking a step down after Boeheim.
We won’t have answers to these questions for some time. Boeheim’s career has been worthy of both praise and criticism, but Syracuse will not look forward to the day it has to replace its Hall of Fame head coach.