Well, I’d wish you all a Happy New Year but the way things are going for Syracuse fans, I’d expect a middle finger and a curt response. In other words, things are not going well. You don’t need me to tell you that, of course. And unfortunately, none of us really knows how to respond to the current trajectory of Syracuse hoops.
This truly is unprecedented territory for the Syracuse basketball program. As Mike McAllister pointed out over at CuseNation.com, for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, Jim Boeheim is in danger of having a losing season.
Think about that for a second. In 40 years on the sideline at Syracuse, Boeheim has never before had a losing record. The worst in his long, storied career was a 16-13 mark back during the 1981-82 season. But more than that, the streak of having a record of at least .500 goes back to before Boeheim ever became the team’s head coach.
The last time Syracuse had a losing season was 1968-69, which was Roy Danforth’s first season as the team’s head coach. The following year, the Orangemen went 12-12. Since then, every single season has seen the Orange pile up more wins than losses.
What makes this season particularly hard to swallow is that it comes on the heels of the Orange having lost 27 games over the last two years. Yes, I know there was a magical run to the Final Four last year, and that’s not to be discounted. But we still lost 14 games a season ago, and 13 the year before. With six losses so far this year, we’re well on our way to a third consecutive season with double digit losses. That’s something that has happened only twice in Jim Boeheim’s coaching career: from 1980-81 to 1982-83, and then for four straight seasons from 2005-2006 to 2008-09.
Of course, that stretch of four straight seasons with double digit losses is one of the more painful stretches in recent memory, but was followed up by one of the best stretches in Syracuse basketball history. From 2009-10 to 2011-12, the Orange lost a combined 16 games, and then went to the Final Four in 2012-13 despite having 10 losses. The next season was the Tyler Ennis year, when the Orange started 25-0 and finished 28-6.
Since then, however, things have been frustrating to say the least. 18-13 coupled with the NCAA sanctions, followed by a tough regular season last year that was alleviated by that incredible Final Four run, and now we’re staring at what seems an inevitability: the worst season in Jim Boeheim’s career.
Taking a little bit of a different perspective, I feel like I should count myself as lucky, in terms of my fandom. I was born in 1980, so obviously I have no recollection of the 1981-82 season. But even including that year, during my entire lifetime, Syracuse has failed to reach 20 victories only three times. In 1996-97, the team went 19-13 when young guys like Jason Hart and Etan Thomas were thrown to the wolves.
So when I say that this program is entering unprecedented territory, I mean it.
And unfortunately, the horizon isn’t looking particularly bright at the moment, based on the program’s recruiting struggles during the 2017 cycle. You’d like to think that help is on the way, but the Orange have struck out with most of their top targets.
I’m a huge fan of Oshae Brissett and think he’s a steal. I like Bourama Sidibe and realize that we were never going to get someone like Mo Bamba anyway (and, to a lesser degree, Nick Richards, once Kentucky started pushing for his services). But swinging and missing on guys like Brandon Randolph and especially Quade Green is tough to swallow. Jordan Tucker is a guy that the Orange had backed off of, but we all figured that once he sorted some things out, Syracuse would get back onto his radar and still potentially bring him in. Instead, he’s eliminated Syracuse is and is down to Indiana and Villanova.
At this point, our best hope for recruiting is that a 2018 guard, Eric Ayala, decides to reclassify to 2017, giving us another combination guard to try to carry the point guard responsibilities moving forward.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s looking like a near certainty that Tyus Battle (who is still clearly hindered by his foot issues – issues he unfortunately may never be able to shake at this point) is going nowhere. Tyler Lydon, likewise, seems more and more likely to be back for his junior year. He’s still projected as a first round pick by some analysts, but does he really strike any of you as the kind of kid who is going to allow his college career to end on such a sour note? Particularly when he’s no longer a lock for the first round, based on his up and down performance this year?
It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on with this team. The struggles haven’t made much sense, and everything certainly points to chemistry concerns as much as anything else. We knew there’d be some issues with chemistry with so many new pieces to the puzzle, of course. But my god… did anyone think it could possibly be this bad?
The body language, the lack of fire, the seeming inability to communicate on the floor and play together… this looks like a team that just doesn’t even want to take the court right now. It’s January 3, and it feels like there’s just no hope for recovery to even scrape together a respectable record.
I guess we were due for a bad season eventually. Going nearly 50 years without a losing record is an astonishing run, but every great run comes to an end sooner or later.
I think we all just wish that in this case, it’d have been “later.”