Think back ten days: March 13, Selection Sunday. The Orange was slumping losing five of its last six to close the season. It recently got drubbed in the second round of the ACC tournament by Pittsburgh for the third time this year and was firmly locked into a 19-win season. And then, the unthinkable happened when SU magically was selected as a ten seed in the Midwest Region matched up with the Dayton Flyers.
It’s so easy to get greedy during March, especially when the Orange made a Final Four run just four tournaments ago. The instant gratification of seeing “Syracuse” flash upon the bracket was instantly lost when the Orange manhandled Dayton in the first round. Sentiments changed from “we made it!” to much greedier expectations. The Orange caught perhaps the biggest break of the tournament in earning a matchup with Middle Tennessee instead of juggernaut Michigan State and now finds itself sitting in the middle of a 10-11 matchup in the Sweet Sixteen. A loss to Gonzaga on Friday evening would be hard to swallow for any SU fan, especially with an Elite Eight appearance on the line.
Yet, the fact of the matter is that this tournament cannot be considered anything but a win for the program. Two years after being bounced by Dayton in the round of 32 after a historic 25-0 start and one year removed from a self-imposed postseason ban, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse somehow have found a way into the thick of things on the second weekend once again.
The NCAA Infractions Committee must be kicking itself right now. After attempting to knock the program back with harsh sanctions ranging from scholarship reduction to coaching suspension, the Orange has found a way to shake off the penalties and battle. Even if SU loses on Friday night, how could this season be considered anything but a success? If someone told you ten days ago, on the morning of Selection Sunday, that the Orange would be dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen, would you have believed them? Probably not.
Not only does this unexpected success satisfy fans’ lofty expectations in Central New York, but the exposure and effect that it has on recruiting cannot be ignored. Sure, the Orange is going to lose two starting fifth-year guards in a couple weeks, but it already has a top recruiting class coming in to replace them. Coupled with an extra scholarship given back, Syracuse’s run in the tournament can only make the school look better in the eyes of potential recruits. What does this run prove? That the program can persevere through penalties, and most importantly, it shows how impressive Boeheim actually is as a coach. Six ACC teams in the Sweet Sixteen means that recruits will be promised the top competition year-in and year-out, and it doesn’t look like the Orange is ready to slow down anytime soon.
So, even if the Orange drops its winnable game versus Gonzaga on Friday, just remember that you would’ve been absolutely thrilled with a Sweet Sixteen appearance just ten days ago. Regardless, this run can only help the program in the short-term and long-term.