The AP released its preseason Top 25 poll on Monday and not only did it show us which teams are expected to make gigantic leaps this season (#7 Nevada comes to mind), but it also confirmed something we’ve been speculating on for a while when it comes to Syracuse basketball: there are high expectations for the Orange this season.
SU checked in at #16 in the first rankings of the season, marking its highest preseason poll position since 2013-2014 when it started in the #8 spot. Jim Boeheim has said that he doesn’t really care all that much about those high preseason expectations because he’s had some of his best teams come when there wasn’t much preseason hype at all. After all, the 2015-2016 Final Four team was only ranked for one week in its entire run to Houston.
So that got us to thinking, what happens to those teams that do start out with some hype behind them? Do they pan out and make deep tournament runs? Or do they simply fizzle out and disappoint SU fans? To answer this question, we’ll take a look at each of the last five SU teams that started the season ranked in the top 20 and how their seasons ended up panning out.
NOTE: Postseason ranking is based on the Coaches’ Poll because the AP does not release a final poll after the NCAA Tournament.
Preseason Ranking: 19
Finish: Lost in 2nd round of NIT to Ole Miss
Postseason Ranking: NR
Leading Scorer: Andrew White III (18.5 ppg)
This is probably the most disappointing team SU has had in recent memory. There was so much hype and excitement surrounding this team coming off the run to the Final Four. The Orange reloaded themselves with a couple of fantastic grad transfers in Andrew White III and John Gillon. They coupled that with an impressive freshman class of Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson. However, it was all that new blood that ended up hurting the Orange in the end. The team just couldn’t figure it out defensively at the beginning of the season with the influx of newbies and an abysmal 9-7 non-conference schedule with losses to former Big East rivals UConn, Georgetown and St. John’s was the result. That awful stretch put the team completely behind the eight-ball for the rest of the year and the Orange ended up as one of the last four teams out of the NCAA Tournament, clearly not living up to the preseason hype.
2013-2014 (First Season in ACC)
Preseason Ranking: 8
Finish: #3 seed in NCAA Tournament (lost to #11 Dayton in 2nd round)
Postseason Ranking: 17
Leading Scorer: C.J. Fair (16.5 ppg)
The 2013-14 season was similar to the 2016-17 season in a lot of ways. Syracuse was coming off a Final Four appearance but had lost a huge chunk of its scoring from the year before (Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland) to graduation and the NBA Draft. Luckily, the Orange had brought in standout freshman guard Tyler Ennis in the offseason. SU ripped through the non-conference undefeated, highlighted by a double-digit win over then-#8 Villanova. Overall, SU won a whopping 25 straight games to start the season. The Orange also dominated in their first season in the ACC, going 14-4 in their new conference, including, of course, the Ennis game-winner vs Pitt. SU rolled to the tournament as a 3-seed and easily dispatched Western Michigan in the opening round. However, in a second-round showdown with Dayton, the Orange did not hit a single triple and saw their once-promising season come to a screeching halt.
2012-2013 (pictured above)
Preseason Ranking: 9
Finish: #4 seed in NCAA Tournament (lost to #4 Michigan in Final Four)
Postseason Ranking: 3
Leading Scorer: C.J. Fair (14.5 ppg)
This 2012-2013 team featured one of the most talented starting fives of SU basketball’s recent past. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and senior Brandon Triche made up the Orange’s starting backcourt while junior C.J. Fair, sophomore Rakeem Christmas and five-star freshman DaJuan Coleman made up a formidable frontcourt. The roster overall had five future NBA players in Carter-Williams, Christmas, James Southerland, Jerami Grant and Michael Gbinije (he sat the entire season as a transfer from Duke). That loaded roster was nearly unstoppable in the early part of the regular season with four players averaging double-digit scoring figures. A knee injury to DaJuan Coleman and a six-game suspension for Southerland (academic issues) derailed the Orange’s season a bit at the beginning of Big East play, but they eventually figured it out and raced all the way to the Final Four after holding Marquette to a record-low 38 points in the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, SU ran into the feel-good story of the tournament in eventual national runner-up Michigan, but all things considered, 2012-2013 was an exceptional season for a loaded Syracuse team.
2011-2012 (Big East Regular Season Champs)
Preseason Ranking: 5
Finish: #1 seed in NCAA Tournament (lost to #2 Ohio State in Elite Eight)
Postseason Ranking: 5
Leading Scorer: Kris Joseph (13.4 ppg)
A year after a disappointing loss to rival Marquette early in the NCAA Tournament, SU returned nine of their top ten players from the season before (only loss was Big East DPOY Rick Jackson) and added a pair of stellar freshman in Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas. That primed the Orange for one of the best starts in program history as they ripped of 20 consecutive wins to start the season and climbed all the way to #1 in the AP Poll before a loss to Notre Dame in January. SU only lost one other game (in the Big East Tournament to Cincinnati) before heading into the NCAA Tournament as a 1-seed. After narrowly escaping 16-seed UNC-Asheville in the opening round, SU cruised all the way to the Sweet 16 where they slipped past Wisconsin. That set up an Elite Eight matchup with Ohio State and All-American Jared Sullinger. The game saw 48 fouls between the two teams, but eventually the Buckeyes pulled away and ended a truly storied season in Syracuse basketball lore.
Preseason Ranking: 10
Finish: #3 seed in NCAA Tournament (lost to #11 Marquette in 2nd Round)
Postseason Ranking: 18
Leading Scorer: Kris Joseph (14.5 ppg)
With the motto of “Unfinished Business” after losing early in the NCAA Tournament as a one-seed the year before, Syracuse went into the 2010-11 season with a new look offense. The Orange lost Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku and Wes Johnson from the year before and replaced them with future program centerpieces in freshmen C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo. SU rode a strong defense to an 18-0 start before a loss to Pitt in the early part of Big East play that sent them on a four-game losing streak. Despite a loss to Kemba Walker and UConn in the second round of the Big East tournament, SU found a way to right the ship and earn a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament. After an easy win over Indiana State in the first round, SU ran into a tough 11-seed Marquette in the round of 32. In a game that came down to the final minute, a controversial backcourt call on Scoop Jardine gave the Golden Eagles the opportunity they needed to pull out a 66-62 win and dispatch the Orange from the tournament far earlier than expected for the second straight season.