The Orange was undefeated and cruising a month ago. A month later, they’re heading home.
One month changed everything. On February 18th, Syracuse was #1. On March 24th, they’re home for the season. The ride ends, and with it comes second guesses, what ifs, and kicked walls. How did Syracuse go from the undisputed top team in the nation and a 25-0 record, to a Round of 32 flameout which only scored a paltry 18 points in the first half against an A10 team?
Probably, the original version of Syracuse wasn’t as good as its record indicated. They got by on a few miracle shots (Tyler Ennis’ heave vs. Pitt). They scored only 49 points in the win over Miami. The ACC wasn’t exactly a killer conference.
In retrospect, Syracuse best win might’ve been over Baylor back around Thanksgiving. Look at how shaky the other “quality victories” seem now. Beating Duke at the Dome was an amazing thrill ride, but the Dookies lost their opening game to Mercer. Pitt? Run out of the gym by Florida. Villanova? Busted out in the Round of 32. UNC was unranked when the Orange beat them. Heels didn’t make it out of the first weekend. Maybe SU wasn’t as tested as we thought?
But you can only play who’s on your schedule, and SU played and beat them all until BC. And then a terrible Eagles team walked in and stole one and you figured it would refocus the team. All it did was start the crack in the sidewalk. By the NCAA tourney we had seen too many flaws. A wildly limited offense that basically depended on two players: CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis. A sharpshooter who couldn’t hit an aircraft carrier with a paintball gun. A balky back for Jerami Grant. A non-existant bench.
It’s crazy to think about, but Syracuse ranked 236th in the nation in scoring. They were 206th in FG percentage. Just 236th in assists per game. They couldn’t score. They couldn’t pass. They couldn’t shoot. And that performance against Dayton proved all of it.
It was fool’s gold, that Syracuse start. Which is too bad, because it was easy to fall for. An Elite 8, followed by a Final 4, seemed to be leading to the logical next step: The Title Game. Buffalo, to MSG, to Dallas.
But the Orange flamed out in Western New York to an 11-seed. A mirage of what we thought they were a month ago.