While it will be hard to look back at Syracuse’s 2014-2015 men’s basketball season as anything but a let down, fans need to give respect where respect is due.
Sure, the team is going to finish with less than 20 wins for the first time in almost 20 years, but the coaching staff made do with the players on the roster and the team itself really overachieved throughout the year, despite the glaring weaknesses.
The team’s downfall started about a year ago, when former point guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant declared for the draft. While there was strong suspicion that each would leave, it was hard to stomach both departures. Compounded with the graduation of CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita, the Orange was already starting off the 2014-2015 season with a watered-down roster.
The rotation to start this season was a mix of two freshmen, one senior, and a bunch of role players that couldn’t score like Fair could, couldn’t run the offense like Ennis could, and couldn’t rebound like Grant could.
Then, freshman Chris McCullough went down with a knee injury and Dajuan Coleman took a medical redshirt that turned the season outlook from bad to worse. But instead of quitting, SU battled through the rest of its schedule, surprisingly managing to score enough points to win games.
And when the team’s fate was set in stone with a postseason ban, did the Orange quit? No. Instead, it rallied around the self-inflicted punishment and played some of its best basketball despite having a rotation of only six or seven guys.
SU still brought Villanova to the brink of losing in December (before the ban), defeated two highly ranked teams in Louisville and Notre Dame, and saw a four-year player emerge to stardom and play himself into award consideration, despite all of the shortcomings. The roster was far from perfect – it wasn’t even close to perfection; yet the mix of players managed to compete in almost every game in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
Next season is nearly a guaranteed improvement. With a strong recruiting class coming in that still has a chance to get better, the Orange will be bringing in difference makers that will have a chance to impact the team immediately. In addition, a huge part of the rotation will be upperclassmen, thanks to the 2013 recruiting class. The rotation will be more rounded, with bona fide scorers, rebounders, and defenders, instead of relying on one man to do it all. Maybe a down year (if you could even call it that) is all the fans needed to appreciate how great the team has been, and how great it could be next year.
Posted: Jason Weingold