The 2016-17 Syracuse Orange absolutely disappointed. They showed the ability to defeat top-tier competition by knocking off Florida State, Virginia and Duke at home that season. Horrid losses, like the 30-point drubbing they received from St. John’s, left them out of the tournament and unable to showcase their potential.
Comparisons continue between that year and this season, considering the offensive slant of the team’s personnel and their precarious standing for the tournament. It’s less clear if missing March Madness qualifies as a disappointment this year, though. Before New Year’s Day, the possibility they could return to the conversation didn’t appear possible — and wouldn’t emerge until a five-game winning streak after that accumulated three quad-one wins.
There’s a balance though. Syracuse has improved, largely on offense, into elite territory while the defense remains a hindrance that almost undermined great showings at Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. It ultimately did undercut them at Clemson. Now, missing its latest of the likely three or four chances to add quad-one wins before the season ends against Duke it’s worth evaluating realistic outcomes to this season.
Elijah Hughes remains a long shot for ACC Player of the Year after he faltered in the second half against Duke. Award favorite Vernon Carey Jr. powered Duke to victory against Cuse with two and-ones in the second half. Hughes somehow angling that award as a “most valuable” player would qualify as a successful season to me.
Without that, Syracuse’s “March” becomes the ACC Tournament. With victories over Virginia, VT, ND and Pittsburgh they can separate themselves from the lower rung of the ACC (or at least pull themselves relatively even). That leaves Duke, Louisville and Florida State to topple above them. If the Orange clinch the fourth seed by beating who they should over the final nine games, they have a chance to win the tourney, or at least make a strong charge with a double bye.
That, combined with a strong finish to the season should leave the Orange close enough to March that even if they don’t get in, I still walk away from this season feeling good compared to where SU sat in December. Perhaps that’s unsatisfying to people still maintaining 2013-14 standards, but this team never had a chance of reaching that height. It took a weak ACC and NCAA bubble in general to help get them here.
So what qualifies as a successful season?
I think what defines a successful season for Syracuse men’s basketball is to at least be near the NCAA Tournament cutline. Remember that this team lacks experience and talent, and that not too long ago, a tournament appearance seemed laughable, a winning season a success. But the Orange’s five-game win streak prior to its last two losses has made an at-large bid a possibility, albeit unlikely.
The tournament selection committee seems to change its criteria often, so I think just being in the bubble conversation until the very end is a success. To do that, though, SU will need to continue to improve like it has in the past month. That means beating the teams it is supposed to, and then getting a win against one of the remaining opponents on the Orange’s schedule also in the tournament conversation (Florida State, Louisville, or North Carolina State).
For me, a winning season and a team that continues to develop is a successful season. Anything on top of that is gravy. The number one goal is to keep the streak alive and continue to build and refine player skills. I know that most feel that not making the NCAA Tournament is a failure, and in general, I agree. But this team never had a lot of expectations. We lost three of our top four scorers and four starters from last year’s team.
Then during this season we lost our starting point guard (Jalen Carey), one of our most athletic bigs (Robert Braswell), and both Brycen Goodine and Howard Washington have sustained injuries. Even with all of that, the Orange are currently fifth in the conference and 4-1 on the road in the ACC. We have an ACC Player of the Year candidate in Elijah Hughes and we are still in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament birth. Players are progressing and the team is looking more confident every game. And most importantly, this team is fun to watch again!
The offense flows and we have multiple weapons to throw at teams. We’ve already achieved a lot in what was expected to be a down year. If we happen to sneak into the NCAA tournament, that’s just additional icing on an already frosted cake.
I think just making the NCAA Tournament makes a successful season. Last year’s first round loss was disappointing but I think that just getting in this year would make it a successful one. Obviously injuries have had a major impact on what we thought was going to be a deep, athletic roster but the ACC is down far enough that Syracuse should be able to get enough wins to earn a bid. You can’t let a year where you play no road games in North Carolina turn into a NIT bid.
This is Syracuse basketball, so going into any season, the NCAA Tournament is a minimum viable outcome to qualify as “success.” But if we’re adjusting according to the expectations we reset to at the end of December, I suppose 20 wins (including postseason) could be the mark, even if the team doesn’t make it to the Dance. This offense is good enough to both make it to the tournament and do well there. The defense certainly isn’t. I suppose if we can get ourselves back into the conversation come Selection Sunday, that’s enough, and shows this group greatly improved over the course of the year.
Anything short of an NCAA Tournament berth will be an unsuccessful season for Syracuse. Even by recent standards, fair or unfair, an NIT showing — irrespective of finish — can’t be considered a success. There’s another conversation to be had about expectations for the 2019-20 campaign and how NIT was probably the realistic path to begin with, but not making the tournament is a let down for everyone involved.
To actually answer the question, just making the NCAA Tournament this year would be a success, even if that’s a first-round exit. A tournament showing this year would be exceeding expectations, at least in my eyes.
What about you? Share your own thoughts below.