The 2019-2020 Syracuse basketball season was a rollercoaster of emotions for all parties involved. Players, fans, and coaches alike were riding high after SU’s five-game ACC win streak, only to be severely let down after the Orange dropped five out of their next six games and fell out of NCAA Tournament contention. In a season full of ups and downs, the team truly lived up to the nickname of “Cardiac ‘Cuse,” as nobody knew what was going to happen on any given night. Here are the top 5 surprises from the 2019-2020 campaign:
5- A Cold Opener
The defending National Champions came to the Hill for SU’s opening game, and the campus was buzzing. Almost 35,000 fans packed the Dome, each filled with anticipation and excitement. But five minutes after tipoff, the building was about as deflated as the current roof. Syracuse scored two points in its first ten minutes of game action. Although Virginia was stout defensively, they weren’t getting much production on the offensive end either. The game was a rock fight, ending 48-34 in UVA’s favor after a second half that had the Orange faithful leaving early for the exits. Instead of starting the season off with a bang against the defending National Champions, SU revealed their greatest weaknesses in game number one.
4- Buddy’s Bank
The man himself didn’t even believe it went in.
There were two seconds left on the shot clock. Buddy Boeheim was 30 feet from the basket, closely guarded by Virginia’s Tomas Woldentensae. So what did the sophomore guard do? He threw up a prayer. Miraculously, the basketball gods answered. The heave kissed off the backboard and fell through the net, sealing Syracuse’s biggest win of the year.
3- Hanging Tough in Tallahassee
After a crushing loss against NC State, Syracuse traveled down south to face FSU. Elijah Hughes’ status was unknown until right before tip because of an ankle injury in warmups before the NC State game. Buddy Boeheim was coming off one of his worst showings of the season. And to make matters worse, the Seminoles were a force at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. (Florida State was undefeated at home during the 2019-2020 season). However, thanks to a bit of good fortune (Devin Vassell, FSU’s leading scorer, sat out), 25 from Hughes, 22 from Joe Girard, and great minutes off the bench from Quincy Gurrier, SU fought back from an eight point halftime deficit after struggling through the first 20 minutes. The game was tight down the stretch, and the Orange were a Hughes 3 away from going to overtime with the eighth-ranked team in the country.
2- Sidibe’s Late-Season Turnaround
Throughout the season, SU constantly struggled down low. Bourama Sidibe was the main point of criticism, and rightly so. The junior couldn’t stay on the floor, had trouble operating down low within the offense, and at times was a non-factor on the glass. Then out of nowhere, Sidibe became a factor on both ends of the floor in Syracuse’s last five games. He grabbed at least 10 boards in every game, and had three double-doubles, including a season-high 17 against Pitt. Jim Boeheim even identified Sidibe’s inside presence as the reason Syracuse dominated the Panthers. The starting center also logged over 25 minutes in all five games, and only fouled out of one. Sidibe finishing strong gives the Orange a glimmer of hope for the center spot next year.
1- North Carolina, No Problem
On senior day, SU suffered a 92-79 drubbing at the hands of UNC, in which Cole Anthony and Garrison Brooks picked apart the 2-3 zone. Two weeks later, expectations around Central New York were low when the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech to set up a second round ACC Tournament matchup with the Orange. But in Greensboro (pretty much a North Carolina home game) on what became the last day of the 2019-2020 season, Syracuse looked like it could’ve taken down Tyler Hansborough and Ty Lawson. The Orange immediately took the lead off of a Dolezaj dunk and would never relinquish it. Elijah Hughes came out scorching hot, scoring 18 points in the first half, and SU got plenty of open looks throughout the opening period. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, fell apart. Cole Anthony went 2-10 from the field and turned the ball over six times. As a team, UNC shot a paltry 13% from three-point range, and only had four points from its bench. Syracuse went to the locker room with a 43-22 lead and cruised through the second half to a 83-51 victory. The SU season would unfortunately end there, as all conference tournaments were canceled the next day. Nevertheless, the Orange were able to finish their year on a high note, leaving fans to wonder what could’ve been.
We’ll continue to unveil our top five lists in the coming days and weeks. Click here for the rest of the lists and relive the 2019-20 Syracuse basketball season with us.