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What Went Wrong: Syracuse Had Its Best Team in a Loaded College Season

ESPN.com

Editor’s note: The Fizz is rebooting its series from last year asking “What Went Wrong?” We will unveil a new reason every day this week on why SU’s March run fell incomplete. Read Part 1: Fab’s Absence.

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For all of the potential land mines in Syracuse’s season, the Orange was still ranked either #1 or #2 for most of the season, and one good half from the Final Four. There are plenty of “What if’s?” What if Fab wasn’t suspended? What if K-Jo hadn’t missed so many layups against Ohio State? What if the officials had let SU and the Buckeyes actually play? There’s also the question of when. Syracuse picked the wrong year to be really good.

The NBA lockout has a lot of lingering effects. It canceled games and compressed the season creating some really bad basketball. It pushed back the trade deadline, giving Dwight Howard time to screw with us for an extra month. From a college basketball standpoint, it also sent many of college basketball’s best players back to school. The uncertainty of whether there would even be an NBA season influenced many top-flight college stars to stay in school for one more year. 

Kyrie Irving has turned out to be a really good rookie, but there’s no way he’s the top pick if the guys who were supposed to leave, left after last season. The first pick would have likely been Perry Jones III from Baylor. He came back to the Bears and made the Elite 8, where they lost to a loaded Kentucky squad. UK has been a runaway train all season, and definitely benefitted from Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb coming back to join its super freshmen. At least Jones, if not Lamb would have gone to the league. Because of it, the Wildcats might challenge its record 5 first-round picks from a few years back.

SU battled North Carolina in the polls all year. Everyone thought UNC was better because of absurd talent, but SU easily had the better resume. Tar Heels big man Harrison Barnes would have been a top 10, if not top 5 pick. John Henson would have been in the lottery. Tyler Zeller may have been a first round pick. All of them came back. Had North Carolina been healthy and beaten Kansas, SU would’ve played the Heels on Saturday.

Then there’s the team that ended Syracuse’s season. Jared Sullinger should have been a one-and-done, however NBA labor waters and an early exit from the tournament last year meant he came back for one more run at the Final Four.

In a “normal” year of college hoops, Syracuse would’ve played the role of Duke two years ago. The Blue Devils were a team with a near perfect mix of seniors and underclassmen who came together at the right time to win the title. There were just two differences. First was the play of those seniors – specifically the small forwards. While Kyle Singler played well for the Dukies, Kris Joseph was less than ideal for SU for the majority of the tournament. Joseph’s play would have been easier to overcome if the competition wasn’t so stiff. K-Jo would have had two more games to turn it around and there’s a great chance he could have. His approach was correct against Ohio State. He was in attack mode, but just wasn’t converting.

With all that went wrong in that game, the Orange only lost by 7. Louisville is still playing, and Syracuse beat the Cards twice – including a spanking on Senior Day. This team was good. Really good. It was Final Four caliber even without Fab Melo and in nearly any other year SU is heading to New Orleans. Instead, it was bound to eventually run into one of college basketball’s super teams, ones with NBA players in college uniforms. When it finally did, it was the end of the road.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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