In his 42nd season at the helm of the Syracuse basketball program, Jim Boeheim has somehow led his team to the Sweet Sixteen after an astonishing win over Michigan State on Sunday afternoon. Pretty much nobody, including us here at the Fizz, saw this coming. For all intents and purposes, the Spartans should have smacked the Orange. MSU was bigger, faster, stronger and far more talented than SU.
So that begs the question. How the heck are we talking about this year’s SU team, of all teams, going this far in the NCAA Tournament? There’s a very, very simple answer to that question and it’s that Jim Boeheim is putting together one of the best coaching performances I’ve ever seen and certainly the best in his career.
And before I go on, I know what you’re all thinking. What about 2003 when the Orange won the National Championship? Well, that team had who may be the single most talented person to ever don the orange and white in Carmelo Anthony. Winning a title is certainly an impressive accomplishment, but when you’ve got a guy like Melo on your team, does it really take all that much coaching?
But yes, the guy who has handed opponents over 1,000 losses, won a national championship, won five Big East Tournament titles, been to five Final Fours and has an AP Coach of the Year Award to his name is having the best coaching year of his career at age 73 and here’s why.
Syracuse has very little talent on its roster
Even the national experts are saying it
This is Jim Boeheim’s least talented—and undeniably most inexperienced—roster in ages.
And he just coached it to the regional semifinals. It’s the 19th Sweet 16 of his life.
Next up is Duke, which held Cuse to a season-low 44 points 22 days ago.
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 18, 2018
Let’s face it, outside of Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and maybe Frank Howard, this Syracuse team is filled with a bunch of role players that have no business advancing this far in the NCAA Tournament. But somehow, someway, Jim Boeheim has maximized that talent into a contender. He has pulled, ironically, a Tom Izzo and gotten a lot out of guys that under other coaches may not be performing the way they are under Boeheim. I mean, really, SU played Braedon Bayer down the stretch on Sunday and he made one of the most crucial plays of the game when he forced a jump ball underneath the Spartans’ basket. In the end, that comes down to Boeheim having his guys coached up and in the right spots to make big plays. He has made guys far better than they are and that is shining through in this year’s tournament.
He has stuck to his guns defensively… and it’s working
Over the past few years, the biggest knock against Boeheim has been that he’s unwilling to adapt his coaching style to the modern game. The number of times that a reporter has asked him if he’d switch to playing some man-to-man and him responding with a “no” seem almost innumerable at this point. And now that stubbornness has paid off. SU has a top-20 defense in the country and it comes down to the fact that the zone has been nearly impenetrable. The zone is so unique and complicated that most college offenses (save maybe UNC) have been completely unable to crack the code. While not seeing it very often certainly helps Boeheim’s case, it’s his version of the zone that really makes the difference. The intricate movement and nuances of the zone are usually pretty hard for players to pick up on and execute well early in their careers and considering how young and inexperienced this year’s team is, Boeheim has done a masterful job of teaching it to his young guns and turning them into one of the most formidable matchups in the country. After all, the Orange is giving up less than 54 points per game in the tournament thus far. And for that, fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Jim Boeheim is so headstrong.
He has developed young bigs into contributors… even when he could have given up
Without a doubt, the best players on this year’s SU basketball team are guards or wing pieces. Like I said before, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard are the game changers on this SU team. However, over the last few games and especially in the Tournament, it’s been the other guys who have made the biggest difference. In the Wake Forest ACC Tournament Game and the TCU NCAA Tournament game, Marek Dolezaj led the Orange in scoring with 20 and 17 points respectively. In that same TCU game, Paschal Chukwu went 6-6 from the free throw line to help SU ice the game down the stretch. I think a lot of that development we’ve seen over the season has been a result of the coaching job that Jim Boeheim has done.
In the middle of the season, these guys were doing just about nothing and then all of a sudden over the last few weeks, things have just seemed to click. Heck, even Bourama Sidibe had a huge game in SU’s win at Pitt. This season, unlike others in the past, the head man has shown an ability to double down on the faith he has in certain guys and develop them into more complete players. As we’ve seen with guys like Tyler Roberson and Matthew Moyer, if Boeheim doesn’t have a ton of faith in your ability, your play can suffer. Dolezaj, Chukwu and Sidibe hadn’t really down much for Boeheim to place his faith in, but he stuck with his guys anyway and because of his stellar coaching job, he’s made something out of nothing with his three bigs.