Among any concerns about how the Syracuse basketball team is playing in the current moment, we have to realize that the Syracuse basketball program has been largely successful over the past few years. The Orange’s success is specifically evident over the past four years, where SU is one of just four teams to make it to the Final Four twice (even while Syracuse did not participate in the 2015 NCAA Tournament after removing itself from contention, making it two Final Four runs in the past three NCAA Tournament trips for the Orange)!
So while some may focus on every miniscule minutia of every game to determine where Syracuse basketball is headed this year, let’s take a moment to reflect on the bigger picture and see that the 2013 and 2016 Final Four seasons show that 2017 SU basketball is still largely in championship contention.
In 2013, Syracuse went undefeated 10-0 until the Orange lost to Temple 83-79 at Madison Square Garden.
SU opened the 2013 season with force as Syracuse beat ranked opponent #20 San Diego State 62-49, only allowing the Aztecs to score on 27 percent of their shots.
The Orange’s next nine wins of the 10-0 start came against “easier” teams, including Colgate, Princeton, Wagner, Arkansas, Eastern Michigan, Long Beach State, Monmouth, Canisius and Detroit.
The 2013 Syracuse team won its first six Big East games, including defeating #1 Louisville on the road and #21 Cincinnati consecutively, both by two points.
Then the 2013 season slightly deflated. The Orange dropped three straight games to ranked opponents #11 Georgetown, #22 Marquette and #10 Louisville. Syracuse lost the Big East Championship to #4 Louisville, but did beat #17 Pittsburgh and #5 Georgetown along the way.
SU went on to secure the #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where Syracuse dominated play — twice keeping its opponent under 40 points — until being outscored by Michigan in the Final Four 61-56.
The 2013 Orange were 30-10 overall, but went 11-7 in conference play.
Last year, Syracuse went undefeated through its first six games, including winning the Battle 4 Atlantis where SU beat #18 Connecticut and #25 Texas A&M in the process.
Then, the season became a bit of a roller coaster ride. The Orange beat the “easier” teams of Colgate, Cornell, Montana State and Texas Southern, but couldn’t secure a W against Wisconsin, Georgetown or St. John’s, raising concern.
The trouble continued into the start of ACC play where the Orange lost four in a row but then won nine of the next 14 games to close out the regular season.
Last year’s Orange lost to Pittsburgh by one point in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Syracuse went just 9-10 in the ACC in 2016, counting the tournament loss.
SU secured the 10th seeded in the NCAA Tournament (a surprise to many) and made history as the first #10 seed to reach the Final Four.
In 2017, Syracuse started out ranked #18 in the nation.
That changes after a somewhat easy start reached a shaky middle to the season. Now, some hope has come with the new year and a solid start to ACC play.
Like in 2013, Syracuse lost in the big arena: at the Barclays and Madison Square Garden.
Unlike 2013, this year’s Orange do not have such an impressive resume of wins over ranked opponents nor tournament appearance wins that led the 2013 team to a #4 NCAA Tournament seed.
Last year’s team had a shaky start similar to this year’s squad. Last year’s team recovered and saw its play peak in the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s team didn’t dominate the conference, but it showed it could win and beat some ranked opponents in close games.
This year’s Orange is not a 2013 team. Instead, the team we are watching today is somewhat like last year’s team still finding its way.
With that said, Syracuse has the opportunity this year to get hot at the right time — SU can further improve its playing through the remaining ACC games and take that energy into the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, the Orange didn’t need to dominate conference (or overall play in general) to make it in. The 2016 team proved that Syracuse doesn’t need the high seed to be and perform as the high seed.
“All that matters, and you know this, is what you do in the NCAA tournament,” Coach Boeheim said in the postgame press conference after the Orange defeated Pittsburgh on January 7. “That’s all that matters. Just ask Pittsburgh or Virginia, who won 30 games last year, if they would have our year [of making it to the Final Four but only having 23 wins instead].”
There is plenty of time left in this season for the Orange to get to the playing level it needs to be at. There are some games Syracuse needs to win to prove itself, but SU’s 2017 NCAA Tournament chances are still looking good.
Said Boeheim: “This year is still a long way to go.”