This uncertain time has given plenty a lot of time to think. Like most offseasons, it also gives you time to reflect and evaluate where Syracuse is at as a program. There is no denying, the national opinion on Syracuse basketball has shifted in the past six to seven years. In recent memory, the Orange have become known as that team that is always on the bubble. Now, they’ve also become known as that team that no one really wants to play in March. As a whole, Syracuse still has two final fours in the past eight seasons, a pretty strong stat.
But, when you look at SU’s winning percentage since Tyler Ennis hit the buzzer beater at Pittsburgh in 2014 to go to 25-0 on the season, it’s not great.
124-90 record (57.9%)
59-58 ACC (50.4%)
3-5 ACC Tourney (37.5%)
9-5 Postseason (64.3%)
Granted, that’s a convenient time to start tracking things. But, it’s a large body of work. It’s a program that has shifted in identity. The question is: by how much and how worried should fans be?
We at Orange Fizz decided to each give a ranking or a way to quantify where this program is at. It’s simple and you can play along with us in the comments section below. Give a number 1-10 on the state of the program. 9 and 10’s would belong to blue blood programs that are consistently in the national title conversation. 1 is the lowest point for programs and effectively means it is rock bottom. To make this easier to understand, we’ve laid out a potential team that would fit some of these numbers.
Tim Leonard: 5
The tournament is important, absolutely. But, at some point you can’t just keep clinging to a couple tournament runs. You have to show it in the regular season. Syracuse has now lost at least 13 games in the past six seasons and at least 14 games in the past five. The Orange have lost 84 (!) games in the past six years. Just to give you an idea of how bad that is here are some other teams in that range for losses in the past six years.
South Carolina 81
NC State 84
Virginia Tech 85
Mississippi State 86
Take a team like Notre Dame for example. They’ve had some down years in a row under Mike Brey–some bad breaks due to injuries. Their stock is down and they’ve lost 74 games. 10 less than the Orange. The Fighting Irish have also had two Elite Eight runs in that time span, so it’s really pretty hard to argue Syracuse has had a better stretch.
In the six year span before the last six (09-14), Syracuse lost 42 games. Exactly half as many as the past six years. This is a fall from grace in the regular season. SU hasn’t finished inside the top six in the ACC in six years. And honestly, next year and the year after that don’t look much better.
Jonathon Hoppe: 6
While it may seem like the sky is falling, the Orange haven’t gotten many breaks recently. Just take Darius Bazley’s decision to go to the G-League, or Jordan Tucker’s decision to go to Duke. Who knows what we’re talking about on here if Syracuse had landed either of those guys. Sure, they need to lure them in, but at the end of the day it’s tough to compete with a program like Duke.
Let’s not forget Jim Boeheim’s program is four years removed from a deep tournament run and two years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance. The sky is not falling. The Orange have a firm commitment from 2022 stud Dior Johnson, who is making it seem like others will follow him. If that doesn’t work out, it’s likely because the NBA came calling. Again, it’s tough to compete with that.
Oh yeah, Harvard’s Seth Towns was another target. He chose Ohio State after giving Syracuse a hard look. You can’t land every target and at some point being among the final options has to be taken into consideration. The Orange have continued to produce high-quality players (Elijah Hughes, Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett).
This was a down year for Syracuse and it still finished sixth in the ACC. The sky isn’t falling.
Ian Unsworth: 5
I have to agree with Tim here.
In my opinion, the best SU’s program has ever been is an eight: a team that is consistently in the tournament as a 3-6 seed, and every once in a while has an excellent regular season or makes a deep run. But the last couple of years, the Orange have dropped off. Badly.
There are many on-the-court reasons that Syracuse has struggled the past couple of years. Lack of a dominant inside presence, reliance on isolation offense, six-man rotations, the Stephen Curry effect, the list could go on and on. Each team might’ve had different weak spots, but at the end of the day, SU dug themselves a hole that now seems extremely difficult to climb out of.
And it’s shown in recruiting the last couple of years. SU’s last top 25 recruiting class was in 2016, and two of those players (Matthew Moyer and Taurean Thompson) transferred. The third, Tyus Battle, carried SU to two bubble appearances in the NCAA Tournament, then forgoed his last year of eligibility to not get drafted. The next couple of classes (now the current roster) didn’t crack the top thirty, and unfortunately, the lower recruiting grades translated to worse performances on the court.
Rankings obviously don’t define a team. Players do. Certain coaches have the ability to find hidden gems and develop them into stars (take John Beilein’s Michigan team that beat Syracuse in the 2013 Final Four). Jim Boeheim has that player development ability as well (Elijah Hughes and Marek Dolezaj are prime examples), but Boeheim’s players need to do two things: score in isolation situations and fit in the 2-3 zone. Brycen Goodine, Jalen Carey, and Howard Washington are all leaving the program because they couldn’t do either.
Looking towards the future, there’s not much hope for SU to lift itself back up to ACC title contention. Kadary Richmond and Woody Newton are both solid players who fulfill the above requirements, but neither addresses the real weaknesses of the 2019-2020 squad. The Orange only have 9 scholarship players, and only 5 with game experience. The class of 2021 has zero commits.That’s right. Zero. Syracuse seems to be out of luck with grad transfers as well, so SU’s current crew better figure out how to compete with the ACC’s best.
Thomas Shults: 6
I’m going to be slightly more optimistic in the State of the Program. This is not a Syracuse program that is near its highs of the past. It is also likely losing its best player in Elijah Hughes to the NBA Draft.
But this is still an above average program. Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach who has never had a losing season. I don’t think anyone truly thinks of a guy like Brad Brownell of Clemson – whose teams have lost the same amount of games as Boeheim’s in the last six years – as a coaching equivalent to Boeheim.
These Boeheim coached teams are still pests come NCAA Tournament time. Just ask Tom Izzo and Michigan State. SU doesn’t have the star power that foes like Duke and Virginia consistently do, but the Orange regularly knock off great teams. It did that last season against Duke at Cameron Indoor.
Sure maybe the recruiting is down. This isn’t a program that is going to compete with the blue bloods and reel in top-five recruiting classes. But Dior Johnson committing to the 315 doesn’t hurt. Maybe he’ll bring another star recruit or two with him. On the other hand, he may never play a game in the Dome. But having a five star commit is never a bad thing.
I’m not going to tell you Syracuse is going to reimagine itself into the powerhouse of old. But I do believe SU will continue to make the NCAA Tournament more often than not. It’ll continue to win more games than it loses. And the Orange will continue to beat better competition once in a while and occasionally make a run in March Madness. To me, that’s better than an average program.
Jaron May: 3
These guys are way too optimistic. Looking at Syracuse basketball as a program right now, at this point in time, it is no more than a three on our scale. The question posed is not asking about the history of the program. Yes, Syracuse is one of the best basketball programs historically, but right now it is a consistent bubble team or worse. Since 2014, the Orange haven’t been higher than the eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. So, take out the nostalgia and history of the program and look at it from today’s perspective.
First and foremost, Jim Boeheim doesn’t know how to recruit. He hasn’t had a top-20 recruiting class since 2016, according to 247 Sports. Everyone on the current roster has come in recruiting classes in the 30’s or higher. Boeheim is barely able to entice ESPN Top-100 players, usually only nabbing one a year, if that. With a name like Jim Boeheim and being a Hall of Famer, you’d think he would be better at recruiting, but he just isn’t and that is hurting this program. The future doesn’t look bright. Yes, Dior Johnson has committed, but I believe that wasn’t thanks to Jim Boeheim. Plus, who knows if Johnson stays committed? He could bounce at any point, which has happened to Syracuse in the past.
Second, Syracuse is losing a pretty good chunk of its roster due to players transferring. Brycen Goodine went to Providence, Jalen Carey is in the transfer portal, Brandan Paul is leaving, and Howard Washington is also expected to jump ship. That is four guards just gone, including two of your most highly rated recruits over the past few seasons in Goodine and Carey. What does it say about the program if players, and a lot of them, are just getting up and leaving? It definitely doesn’t say something good. In my opinion, it says this program is a three on the Fizz’s scale.
Third and lastly, the Syracuse playing system is out of date. There have been plenty of conversations about the two-three zone over the years about whether it works or not. I am a firm believer that it doesn’t and if you look at the stats, they back it up. Then on the other end, Syracuse doesn’t run an offensive system. It is all isolation play and it has been for years. It’s not something that was unique to last season, it’s a trend.
Bad recruiting leads to a weak future. Players transferring leads to feeble present. Poor playing systems leads to a consistency of mediocrity. The Syracuse basketball program is on a downwards trend and doesn’t have much light at the end of the tunnel.
Let me also throw this out there– picking 5 is a cop out. These guys are sitting on the fence. Pick a side fellas.
Gill Gross: 5
I’m really tempted to focus on debunking Jaron’s claim that the 2-3 zone isn’t a good defense. It’s an incredible defense. But I’ll stay on topic here.
Syracuse’s recent results are indefensible. All of the regular season statistics in Tim’s blurb suggest a bonafide program drop-off. The only reason I give a five is because luck has been squarely against the Orange and it is bound to turn around. The misfortune is comical if you look back at it. Here’s three incidents that are particularly bizarre:
2017: After averaging nearly 10 PPG as a freshman, Taurean Thompson transfers to Seton Hall. He said the decision had nothing to do with playing time or frustration with the coaching staff. The Harlem native rushed home after his mother fell ill and never returned to Syracuse. Turns out, Seton Hall illegally tampered with Thompson’s mother while he was still at Syracuse. The program is facing sanctions for their recruitment of Thompson. He would have started in place of Marek Dolezaj or Paschal Chukwu in 2018.
2018: Syracuse commit Darius Bazely literally makes up a new thing. He bypassed college to play in the G-League (so we thought). He then changed his mind one more time, opting to accept a 1-million dollar internship with New Balance instead. He was Syracuse’s highest rated commit since Carmelo Anthony. You can’t really fault the Orange for losing him. He didn’t want to play competitive basketball for anyone.
2019: Everyone knew this team was too reliant on Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle. Well, Howard started the season sidelined with injury. He came back at less than 100% and SU suffered from it. Then, he found his stride and scored 28 against Duke in the ACC tournament. That turned out to be his last game. He failed a drug test before Syracuse’s NCAA tournament game against Baylor. I repeat, the Orange lost its senior starting point guard…. because he failed a drug test.
You have to look at the last few years and feel for the program. Things are bound to start going in a better direction. The backcourt is in good hands for a while. Dior Johnson can be a savior.