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Syracuse men’s basketball: where does Jim Boeheim rank among NCAA head coaches?

One thing is for sure: it’s a question easier to ask than to answer.

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Florida State vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim profiles as one of the best coaches in the NCAA. That’s no secret.

Boeheim’s coaching resume remains the best out of current MBB coaches and one of the best of all-time: 998 regular season wins, a 48-28 record in March Madness, 41 total NCAA Tournament appearances, 10 Big East Regular Season Championships, 5 Big East Tournament Championships, a national championship in 2003, 3 total trips to the national title game, 4 additional appearances in the Final Four. Most impressive of all: between 1976 and 2022: just one year below .500 in the NCAA regular season. You can go on and on.

Coach Boeheim’s longevity stands out, above all else. Boeheim has coached through six decades, nine presidencies, and even three (!!!) Carrie movies. As of now, he remains the winningest active coach in the NCAA.

But that was then, and this is now. Has the tide changed on how Coach Boeheim is ranked alongside his fellow peers?

According to The Athletic’s tiers list of the best coaches in men’s basketball, Boeheim ranked in the 19-20 spot, placed in the same tier (2B) as West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. The article from The Athletic stated that no coach caused more discussion, argumentation, and back-and-forth deliberation than Jim Boeheim. Considering the laundry list of accolades that were just listed off, it’s crazy to think Boeheim ranks so low among other NCAA coaches.

Or is it? Let’s hash out the case on both sides of the aisle.

Legacy versus immediate impact

Any talk surrounding where Coach Boeheim ranks centers on what already happened versus what will happen.

It can be hard to distinguish the two. Oftentimes players and coaches are ranked on previous accomplishments that create a profile of success, without factoring in how the present and future will take shape. On the flip side, it’s easy to underrate experience, longevity, and accomplishments, especially when recency bias enters the fold.

Coach Boeheim’s coaching resume screams “all-time head coach.” He’s a firm decision-maker, trusting his experience and his gut even when members of the media disagree with some of his choices or grow frustrated about the lack of change in scheme. He’s a commanding leader, a culture-setter, and a critical voice in the locker room.

Most important of all, Boeheim is a fantastic coach, but he’s not prone to “overcoaching.” Boeheim’s defense centers on his 2-3 zone scheme, while the offensive is free-flowing, informal, and democratic.

Boeheim’s system has worked for generations of Syracuse basketball players, past and present, for decades. So why so much skepticism to rank him higher?

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The doubt against Coach Boeheim is whether his effectiveness is finally started to wane.

Since the 2018-2019 season, the Orange haven’t recorded a season with more than 20 wins. In the last four seasons, Syracuse hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the ACC standings. Even during the Orange’s cinderella run to the Sweet 16 in 2021, Syracuse was an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament, securing one of the last at-large bids on Selection Sunday.

Syracuse Men’s Basketball Since 2018-2019:

2018-2019: 20-14, 10-8 versus ACC, 6th in conference, First Round Loss in March Madness

2019-2020: 18-14, 10-10 versus ACC, 6th in conference, No March Madness Berth (COVID-19)

2020-2021: 18-10, 9-7 versus ACC, 8th in conference, Sweet 16 Berth in March Madness

2021-2022: 16-17, 9-11 versus ACC, 9th in conference, No March Madness Berth

Ranking Coach Boeheim remains difficult because the immediate impact isn’t as sure of a thing now as it was even five years ago.

The changing landscape in college basketball

The Athletic’s coaches tier exercise purposely left out listing off any criteria for how NCAA coaches would be ranked and make it “intentionally vague.” But two of the factors briefly mentioned include the ability to recruit and the ability to be successful in the long term.

If that’s the case, there’s a reason why so much skepticism surrounds Coach Boeheim’s ceiling as we approach the next season of college basketball.

In recent seasons, despite securing a pretty-high 2022 recruiting class, Syracuse has lagged behind on the recruitment front. With the recruitment landscape changing with NIL and a whole host of other reasons, there is a fear the Orange are falling behind with the changing times.

More importantly, there’s a reluctance that Coach Boeheim isn’t willing to adapt to the new NIL landscape.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

That’s a statement that has its pros and cons. Again, Syracuse’s most recent recruiting class ranked 22nd. Coach Boeheim also still has the appeal that can attract prospects of any kind. In terms of development and getting the best out of his players, Boeheim remains one of the most underrated coaches in all of the NCAA. Just look at the rosters from the past handful of seasons. More likely than not, they have overachieved relative to how the Orange looked on paper.

But the challenge with Boeheim isn’t necessarily his ability to recruit, but his future in the long term.

The uncertain future

Coach Boeheim’s looming retirement will be the elephant in the room for the Orange heading into this season. Fears over Boeheim’s departure from basketball and how Syracuse basketball moves forward in the post-Boeheim world are becoming more of a growing concern.

Coach Boeheim, who turns 78 in November, is heading toward the final arc of his coaching career. Questions over his eventual departure have loomed in recent seasons. At one point, Boeheim originally planned to retire in 2018. In a Forbes article, he said he would coach until he turned 80.

One of The Athletic’s criteria is which coaches will be successful in the long term. I’d imagine many felt Boeheim’s pending retirement played a big role in ranking him.

With all of this in mind, the fact is that Coach Boeheim will face a pivotal, challenging season that he will need to guide the Orange through. Syracuse faces an always-brutal ACC schedule and tons of questions over how the roster will take shape. This season also marks the 20th anniversary of the Orange’s 2003 championship run, so maybe there’s some anniversary magic to tap into.

It’ll be fascinating to see if Coach Boeheim can take the Orange back to the NCAA Tournament and make one more March run before he decides to step away. If Boeheim does what he does best, the sources The Athletic used to rank the MBB coaches will look foolish for doubting the Hall of Fame coach.

He’s done it for 46 seasons. The 47th time will be just another day at the office for Coach Boeheim.