God, what a difference a month makes. Back in early November, there was so much belief (without evidence, to steal a line from Dino Babers) that this Syracuse basketball team had what it takes to make another run at a Final Four. Two deep at every position. Shooters. Rebounders. Shot blockers.
But after a humiliating loss to what is – and let’s be 100% realistic here – a bad St. John’s team, it’s time to start recognizing a simple fact. To steal a line (and add a single, important word) from the late, great Dennis Green, they’re not who we thought they were.
I mean, even Jim Boeheim is perplexed. He’s lost. Or as he said himself:
Boeheim says that he doesn't think he knows what he's doing with this team.
— Matt Schneidman (@matt_schneidman) December 22, 2016
You guys, that’s not a good sign.
Granted, Syracuse basketball was long overdue for a season in which we came crashing down. The last couple of years have been kind of rough, with the NCAA investigation (which has hurt us more than we ever could have anticipated with the limited scholarships) and early defections to the NBA. But we’ve still got multiple Final Four trips in the past few years, and – again – we came into the season with a roster that we thought was talented enough to compete for, at the very least, an ACC title.
But like I said: we’re not who we thought we were.
Part of that is our fault, as fans. We bought into the hype and then amplified it. We talked this team up, from piece one to piece ten. I’m guilty of this myself, and even with this team’s struggles, I still believe the talent is there to at least be competitive with the better teams in the ACC. But having talent on paper means precisely jack shit. I’ve talked about this before, and it’s becoming more and more evident as each game passes.
Before, though, I had suggested it’s not time to panic. Honestly, it may not be the time to panic now, but not for reasons you think. I have no illusions about how this season will turn out. Barring some unexpected miracle, like the angels from Angels in the Outfield swooping down and teaching Taurean Thompson and Andrew White how to defend in the 2-3 zone, or helping Frank Howard stop turning the ball over, or giving Tyler Lydon and Tyus Battle some goddamn confidence in their abilities and insisting they stop being so freaking tentative all the time, the season is a lost cause.
With a record of 7-5 right now, and likely 8-5 at the end of non-conference play with a single game against Cornell standing between us and ACC play, things are bleak. The Orange would either have to win about 13 games in conference play or make a run to the conference tournament championship to get a berth in the NCAA Tournament at this point.
I don’t see either of those things happening, do you?
So when I say it’s not time to panic, it’s because I mean that time has come and gone, and I for one didn’t even notice it fly by. It was moving far too quickly. The bottom has fallen out so quickly it’d be almost impossible to notice, because we all kept deluding ourselves into thinking things could get turned around.
And because I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently, I’m going to continue thinking that maybe if we’re lucky, the chemistry will finally get there, and the newcomers will finally start picking up the nuances of the zone, and Tyler Lydon and Tyus Battle will finally start actually looking for their offense and not be so skittish and passive.
By the way, have you picked up on the fact that I really, really want those two guys to actually try to take charge? They’re the two guys most capable of becoming an alpha dog on this team, and as you may or may not know, that’s something I think this team desperately needs.
But at the end of the day, we overestimated this team’s capabilities, and we’re headed for a season in which it might very well be an accomplishment to emerge with a record better than .500 for the year.
Just let that marinate for a moment.
Jim Boeheim has never had a losing season at Syracuse. The worst record he’s ever had was 16-13, back in 1981-82. This season – one in which so many of us thought the Orange could be title contenders – could wind up being the worst one yet for the Hall of Fame coach.
Defense is an issue. Rebounding is an issue. The half court offense is nonexistent. Of course, that’s nothing new, really. I’ve always been supremely annoyed by how little we run in terms of half court sets. I said this on Twitter earlier, but I’ll say it again here for good measure: if you’re going to employ an offense that’s built around just rolling the ball out and letting guys create, then you need guys who can actually create.
Syracuse doesn’t have anyone like that right now. Lydon and Battle, again, are the closest guys we have to being three level scorers. Andrew White can’t create for himself off the dribble, and if his jumper isn’t falling, he’s going to fade into the background, just like he did tonight. That shouldn’t be news to anyone. Frank Howard is still too out of control half the time, still isn’t a great scorer, and is definitely having some growing pains trying to become a point guard.
If you need someone to go out and get you a bucket right now, who the hell are you going to turn to? If you need to get a defensive stop, do you trust this team to actually make the necessary rotations and plays to get the job done and keep the ball out of the hoop?
Because I sure as hell don’t. And it’s frustrating to watch games continue to slip away, and keep slipping further and further away, and become lopsided affairs like this game tonight, or the game against South Carolina, or Wisconsin. All of those games had instances in which Syracuse had a chance to keep things close, and in recent years, someone would step up and make the necessary winning plays. Instead, this year, that just doesn’t happen.
So it’s time to look at the harsh truth here: this team just isn’t very good this year. I want them to be good, so very, very much. And I know that you want them to be good. And the players and coaches sure as shit want to be good, far beyond what any of us can even fathom.
But it’s just not happening. This year is quickly becoming a downward spiral, and it’ll take a minor miracle to pull out of it.
Happy holidays. Let’s all go be miserable together and forget this shit ever happened.