At various points during the 2019-20 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season, the team was pretty much left for dead.
After losing to Iowa, we wondered if this was the end. A loss to a shorthanded Georgetown team seemed to hammer home the point. Falling to Virginia Tech dropped us back to the depths, then it took three straight losses to NC State, Florida State and Louisville to truly face reality — a reality that was hammered home once again in subsequent losses to North Carolina and Miami, respectively.
Despite all of this, there were a handful of highs this year, too: Buddy Boeheim’s torrid streak through early ACC play. The five-game winning streak. Beating Virginia in Charlottesville. SU’s blowout win vs. Georgia Tech. Wednesday night’s impressive win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.
Even at 18-13 with a ton of struggles, it is those highs that keep us wondering, though. Syracuse was nowhere near an NCAA Tournament after Wednesday, but the effort we saw against the Heels — combined with the constant specter of Gerry McNamara’s 2006 Big East run — will keep that “what if” going.
Yes, it was a depleted UNC team the other night. And, no they didn’t put much effort in on the defensive end. Still, Elijah Hughes went off, SU hit 46.7% of their shots, avoided foul trouble and scored 27 points off turnovers. They also played solid defense, forced errors and crashed the boards to great effect for much of the game. Could Syracuse replicate that against a much better Louisville team on Thursday night? I didn’t buy the idea. We’ve seen crazier things happen, though.
So now, this is it. Jim Boeheim’s 44th season ends with a win that creates just enough intrigue to make you want more. But it’s also at the conclusion of a season that makes you doubt what’s next. Syracuse was good enough at times to win 20 or more games — they lost seven games by single digits — but also weak enough to lose more than they did (they also won seven games by single digits).
Maybe that’s what redeems this year more than other disappointing finishes of late, though. Perhaps SU wins the ACC Tournament and makes a surprise trip to March Madness. Or they could just lose to Louisville and then pick up a win or two in the NIT. In sports, there is typically no dramatic “what if” ending. You either win or lose. There’s a finite conclusion.
While the conditions that created the cancellation of this year’s NCAA Tournament are terrible, we can potentially take some odd solace in what we’re gaining here: A chance to write our own ending on a season that otherwise could’ve been forgotten pretty quickly. Or not.