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Sweet 16 shows missed opportunity for Syracuse men’s basketball

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Closing out some games and we could be still watching Orange hoops

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of online narrative after the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. With three ACC teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, Syracuse Orange fans can feel a bit better about how the season went or they can lament the missed opportunities. After watching the games the last few days, I think we missed out on Apology Tour: Boeheim Boogaloo.

Coming off last year’s Sweet Sixteen run the feeling around the Syracuse team was that a repeat was a strong possibility. When you look back at the three games the Orange slip away against teams still playing and you could see how that was a realistic view. Twice Syracuse had Miami in a deep deficit and couldn’t close out the game and we just watched the Hurricanes end the title hopes of Auburn. The Orange were also a failed in-bounds play from grabbing a Quad One win on the road in Chapel Hill.

Those three games might not have guaranteed an at-large bid for Syracuse but they could have put the Orange at 12-8 in ACC play and let them avoid Duke in the ACC Tournament. You could certainly see Syracuse grabbing one of the spots that Miami or Notre Dame landed. This time of year isn’t always about the best teams advancing- it’s often about being in the right spot and catching the right opponent on the right day.

Playing Auburn or Baylor wouldn’t match that last part for this Syracuse team, but the Syracuse offense would have caused problems for many higher-seeded teams as the Orange had multiple scoring options available. Yes you aren’t going far with a porous defense but if you can be ok on that end of the floor and elite as an offense the odds of making the second weekend improve (as Syracuse showed last year).

I know many fans are already leaning on the defensive improvement next year as reason for optimism. Depth and athleticism issues will be corrected with the recruiting class arriving this summer but will that group keep the Syracuse offense in the KenPom top 25 where it’s been the last three seasons? The adage that “Defense wins Championships” might not be as appropriate in today’s college basketball. You need to get key stops but if you can’t make shots and protect the ball you’ll find yourself getting bounced sooner than later.

While a lot of the narrative around Jim Boeheim’s coaching focuses on the zone, he’s been a better offensive coach in recent years. He has shown an ability to adapt to the changes in the game and his personnel. Will he be able to build around Jesse Edwards and Joe Girard next year? Will the new players lead to better defense and more points in transition rather than the half-court?

This year’s roster certainly had flaws but as you watch the rest of the NCAA Tournament it’ll be tough to wonder “What If”. Let’s hope that next March we won’t be scrutinizing missed opportunities and instead previewing opponents.