Hate to say it, but the Orange finally had a taste of some humble pie this past week with two, difficult losses to swallow for the nation’s soon-to-not-be no. 1 team. First, Syracuse lost to the ACC’s second-worst program, Boston College, thanks to an abysmal 32 percent field-goal percentage. And of course, questionable officiating and a heated Jim Boeheim highlighted SU’s 66 – 60 loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor.
The program’s comeback wins against Pittsburgh on the road and at home against NC State were great, but didn’t sit easy for Orange Nation, and showed that going undefeated would be easier said than done. And after two games, it’s never ideal to label a loss “productive,” but in the long run this actually helps Syracuse. Besides, “best start in team history” is great nugget for the resume.
The reality of the situation is the Orange is in the midst of a brutal three-game road trip stretch. It plays Maryland tonight and then Virginia, the ACC’s top team, thereafter.
But why are these losses not so bad after all for this battle-tested bunch?
1. Boeheim’s ejection shows he really believes in this team
Flashback to last season. Syracuse had slumped big-time in the program’s final run in the Big East, with unforgettable, blowout losses to Georgetown twice and to Louisville in the Big East Championship game. Boeheim was often questioned if he even liked last year’s squad. Did he ever blatantly say he didn’t? No, but it was obvious not much sat well with him. After C.J. Fair was whistled for an offensive foul, Boeheim erupted from the sideline like a volcano. We know the rest, but his heart and desire for this team was evident. He needs to keep his cool in tournament play, when it can really cost SU, but his actions were appropriate. Even his joking in the press conference truly showed his passion for this group. Syracuse has played in 10 closely-contested second-half games and has pulled out eight of them. Not much to be upset with. Boeheim loves these guys and has big expectations.
2. The backcourt, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, found out they are human
Saturday night wasn’t easy for SU’s emerging guards. Ennis shot just 2-of-13 from the field against Duke, and Cooney is now 3-of-13 (1-of-9 three points) in the two losses. They are the main reason why the Orange is where it is right now. Boeheim has reiterated this several times. Subtract Ennis and Cooney from the equation and there’s no way SU is the national powerhouse it is this year. Lots of talk about Ennis heading to the NBA Draft and his highlight-reel buzzer-beater to top Pitt immediately mounts a ton of pressure on him. As for Cooney, his solid shooting session in the Dome against Notre Dame had him feeling like he could never miss. Turns out both played really poorly at Cameron. It happens. Better to find that out now instead of late March or early April.
3. The target leaves SU’s back
Again, no more undefeated talk. Great story if it did happen? Hell, yeah. But the likelihood is so damn tough. Wins, like the road one at Pitt, make you think, “Man oh man, this team can’t lose!” Unfortunately the timing of the BC loss led right into Duke. But Syracuse undoubtedly remains a very strong no. 1 seed. The losses were very different. Duke shone as it played its fourth game in eight days. As long as Syracuse didn’t get blown out by the Blue Devils, there are no grueling concerns. Now the unbeaten conversations can stay with Wichita State.
4. This potentially sets up a heated ACC tournament
You have to think the seeding will line up so Syracuse and Duke meet again this year. Both games were decided by six points or less with wild finishes; the people involved are going to do anything possible to make sure a third game-decider happens. It’s similar to how the Orange faced Georgetown one last time in the Big East Semifinal—and SU walked away with the last laugh. The same could occur against the Blue Devils. Syracuse made the ACC slate look simple to glide through, and clearly we know it isn’t. Does it match the intensity and grit the old Big East consistently presented? Not quite, but we’ve learned there will be battles in this conference. Duke and the Cuse have plenty to argue that they deserve to fight for the war one more time. We’ll see.
5. Wake up call for the rest of the road trip ahead
The Orange has no choice but to move on and prepare for a tough Maryland team tonight and first-place Virginia. The season is quickly coming to a close. But take a breather. SU is fine and these losses weren’t necessary, but were appropriate.
Posted by: Brendan Glasheen