A season in which many believed it was Final Four or bust came to a rapid close Saturday night in Buffalo. Syracuse not only lost to no.11 seed Dayton to stop any possibility of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but basketball now halts in Central New York. The end the 2013-2014 season brings about many good and bad memories, as well as several unanswered questions heading into next year.
The Fizz 5 salutes this year’s SU hoops team. We take a look back at an awesome season from a unit that arguably gave the program’s fan base the most chills and thrills in recent memory.
Unexpected, breakout years from Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis upgraded Syracuse from a top 15 team to a legitimate national title contender. Cooney’s spark opening night against Cornell in the Dome (27 points) set the tone for the sophomore’s huge year. He recorded 11 double-digit scoring outings in non-conference play to really get Syracuse rolling in the early going. His 33-point performance against Notre Dame was undoubtedly his best game of the year and possibly one of the best three-point shooting performances in program history. Then of course Cooney’s significant dropoff in production brought out the best in his critics. Although he got ice-cold down the stretch, Cooney developed. As for Tyler Ennis, he had some big shoes to fill once Michael Carter-Williams immediately blossomed in the NBA. From Game 1 to 34, Ennis never seemed uncomfortable. What took his game to a whole new level was his killer instinct at the end of games. We witnessed a glimpse of his abilities in Maui, and his two amazing outings against Pittsburgh cemented his talent. Ennis’ play raised SU’s status from pretender to contender.
The Orange jumped out to an amazing start, 25-0, the best start in program history. Syracuse just kept winning close games, contests that’ll go down as some of the best ever. Pittsburgh twice. A thrashing of Villanova in non-conference play, a highly anticipated top-10 matchup. A pair of Duke Bloodbaths, at the Dome in front of 35,446 and another classic at Cameron Indoor when Jim Boeheim unleashed his frustration at the officials. SU basically won every game in its new conference in a nail-biter. Some felt that was a good thing as it demonstrated this team’s discipline to get the job done late in games. Others may have felt it was a recipe for disaster—which it ended up being. Sometimes your record doesn’t always dictate just how good of a basketball team you are. But you can’t argue with 25-0.
Poor offensive production sadly became the trademark of this team. Syracuse went just 3-6 in its final nine games of the season. Terrible losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech shocked many, but at the end of the day SU simply didn’t put the ball in the basket down the stretch. It upset Orange Nation because shots that fell all season long didn’t go down to close the year. Syracuse was at its best offensively when it drew steals and forced turnovers on the defensive end. It allowed the offense to get out on the break and score quickly in transition and in rhythm. Thirty-nine percent from the field over that final stretch just isn’t going to get in done. The defense, as Boeheim reiterated several times, bailed SU out a lot.
CJ Fair now waves goodbye to the SU faithful. An emotional Fair hit the locker room after the Dayton loss Saturday, in disbelief his career as an Orange was over. The preseason ACC Player of the Year and second–team All-American proved his worth. Tough to think Fair wouldn’t agree that his final game in an SU uniform was not his best. He pretty much played stand-still offensive in the closing minutes against the Flyers. But Fair had many great games during the season, with 28 points—a career high—twice, once against Duke at home and Georgia Tech in his final home game. Fair played through the majority of his career. What Fair may regret his lack of “takeover” mode as the season progressed. He displayed spurts of it every so often, but his inconsistency hurt himself and team’s entire production. Syracuse fans however should have nothing but bad things to say about the senior and his fellow classmate Baye-Moussa Keita. Both are class acts and huge assets to the program.
Going forward now, who’s on board for next year? Speculation of possible NBA-bound talent reached its peak in the midst of Syracuse’s perfect season. The two key names are Ennis and Jerami Grant. Both players are on Chad Ford’s mock drafts. It’s been back and forth for the most part as to which player stays and which player goes. One day it’s Ennis leaving, Grant staying. The next, it’s the complete opposite. I could really see Ennis giving it another go as a sophomore just because his first season might have felt like his senior year already. He gained so much national spotlight that the kid barely had time to even experience a college lifestyle. Grant has raw talent and with proper coaching could do big things at the pro level. He may very well be back as well. As for the coaching staff, ESPN reports Marquette has assistant Mike Hopkins as a potential head coach candidate. Hopkins was once in one USC’s coaching vacancy, but decided to stay on board with the Orange. And it comes up every year: will Jim Boeheim be back for Year 39 as Syracuse head coach. With the program just getting a small dose of the ACC, it’s hard to believe Boeheim isn’t back next year. Syracuse also has 2014 recruits in PG Kaleb Joseph and PF Chris McCullough to look forward to bringing on this coming fall.
Posted by: Brendan Glasheen