Jim Boeheim has done it again. After the Syracuse Orange looked dead in the water mid-season, his team fought back, rattled off three important wins late in the season and snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a double-digit seed.
From there, he’s only done what he always does: make the Sweet 16. Syracuse has made the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend three times as a 10- or 11-seed. The Orange have never fallen short of that benchmark.
And yet, each time Syracuse has accomplished the feat, it’s done so by just barely earning a bid to the field of 68. Syracuse had 14 losses in 2016, 14 losses in 2018 and the team already has nine losses this season. That’s more losses than what the program is historically used to and while the college basketball landscape has undergone a sea change in Boeheim’s time and his Syracuse program has a new conference affiliation, that’s a lower regular season bar.
What to make of all this, when in the past Syracuse had dominated the Big East and routinely earned a top five seed in the NCAA Tournament, usually only suffering single-digit losses?
Now, Syracuse is a perennial middle-of-the-pack ACC team that has built its reputation as a team that makes surprise runs in March. The program is now beyond its five-year probation period after being hit with a lack of institutional control in 2015, among other NCAA infractions. The program was docked scholarships and to top it off, Syracuse had its long-time assistant coach (and heir apparent) take the Washington job in 2017.
Fair or unfair, this has all led to criticism of Jim Boeheim and his program. It’s something we haven’t shied away from here, either. More recently, fans have grown tired of the mounting losses and middling ACC record. Maybe the only thing that truly matters is what happens in the NCAA Tournament. But that’s a conversation for another day.
The criticism is out there. Somewhere in the internet ether, the Jim Boeheim criticism goes on. Yet Boeheim claims he doesn’t even hear it.
“I don’t hear it because they’re from people that are inconsequential,” Boeheim said. “They don’t matter.
“All the stuff on the internet, not one sentence on the internet matters. When my boss, the athletic director or the chancellor says something to me, I listen to that. They have not. But as far as me worrying about what people out there who don’t support our program in probably any way, they probably don’t come to games or have season tickets.”
That’s all well and good, but it’s also not true. I know it, you know it, the American people know it. Boeheim has previously admitted that things that get written or said about him are personal to him and always will be. He’s also been a bit of a bomb-thrower.
Just last weekend he was quick to remind of Buddy and Joe Girard being called lunchtime YMCA players after beating San Diego State. That must be a heck of a lunchtime. Just a few weeks ago, he chided a reporter for suggesting (on the internet!) Syracuse’s record would be better if Jesse Edwards and Kadary Richmond played more minutes. There was the Jay Bilas saga. In a recent radio segment with Brent Axe, Boeheim even responded to fan criticism on local radio. Mind you, all of these instances have occurred within the last month.
“My father taught me a long time ago, you gotta do what you think is right and that’s it. You don’t listen. If you’re coaching at Syracuse for 45 years everybody has an opinion about what we should do, or shouldn’t do,” Boeheim said.
There’s a lot of truth in there. At best, it’s timeless advice. At worst, Boeheim rationally understands it, but emotionally doesn’t accept it.
Maybe after the passage of time Boeheim will finally earn his due and people will understand just how hard it is to win at Syracuse. There’s a greater conversation to be had on what Syracuse basketball is without him and whether or not the late March runs erase lower place finishes in the ACC. It’s far too early to speculate.
“Maybe the next coach will be better,” Boeheim said. “That’s great. I’d be happy to see that. But I do not worry what about what anybody says in Syracuse.”
We can go through the charade, but for someone who supposedly doesn’t hear criticism, Boeheim doesn’t hide it particularly well. He’s never been the type to believe his own press. But that’s what people loved about him in the first place.