The season from hell walked right up to the Gates of Hades and asked the Devil to punch it in the face. The Devil, smiling in his red cape and holding that flaming pitchfork, obliged. He looks an awful lot like that Duke mascot, to be honest. Syracuse’s ever-collapsing ’21-’22 continued to splinter with an embarrassment in front of the home fans, 97-72. Of course, it was one of Jim Boeheim’s worst home losses ever, that’s par for the course on this disastrous season. Of course, Duke scored the first 14 points of the game. For five painful minutes of action, the Carrier Dome crowd was left looking like children whose balloons had floated away, standing and demoralized before they could even eat their Dome Dogs.
The Blue Devils have all the things Syracuse doesn’t: NBA draft picks (3), and huge offensive first halves (51 points). They also have the blueprint to defeating the Orange, which everyone seems to share these days: three-point shooting (15 threes). When Boeheim said he was proud the Orange cut a 30-point lead to 17, it told you all you needed to know. According to its head coach, this version of Syracuse is – at it’s best – 17-points worse than Duke even on their own home floor. Let that wash over you.
It’s not as though this is a generationally great Duke team, like the ’91-’92 Laettner/Hurley/Hill years, or the ’99 squad that went 37-2 and undefeated in the ACC. Coming into the weekend they were ranked 7th, although that will change with the upsets above them. This is a Duke team that has lost three games in a middling ACC, including to an FSU team that’s under .500 in league play. And SU is 17-points worse on its best day, huh? Well that certainly says something.
Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams dominated the Orange. Boeheim’s quote was again pretty damning. “At the end of the day there is nothing we could do with their two big guys. We tried to come back in and then they are going to get their 3s and they all made them.” Boeheim attempted to wave his wand and explain even competing in this game was a sheer impossibility. While Banchero and Williams are indeed very talented, acting as though they are Shaq and Alonzo Mourning is disingenuous. But for the coach, it’s easier to say this was David vs. Goliath than to do an honest autopsy of how the rivalry got this lopsided. Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider were chum in the water for Duke’s NBA talent. Jim Boeheim: “Tonight? I just think Duke is too big and too strong for them.” You can see how Boeheim has positioned this desultory campaign: What do you expect?
Well, those expectations are defined by the head coach. College basketball is run by the power-brokers, the coaches and programs who acquire talent, then sic it on an opponent. And Syracuse’s lead power broker has collected all of the control and influence within and around it. Boeheim will gladly remind you of what this program is because of him. But when it’s ugly and uncompetitive, he can’t just shrug his shoulders and marvel at Duke’s greatness. The middling state of Syracuse hoops is a direct reflection of him as well.
Eight-thousand students crushed into the Dome, many of which camped in tents to get tickets. How many universities and coaches would kill to have even half that show up? For the Orange to be flirting with a losing season, at a program with Final Four banners and 30,000 attendance figures, is harrowing. The talent is average. The execution is below average. And expectations have cratered.
There is always a bipolar hope that ravages Orange Nation. SU has made the tourney 4 of the past 5 years it was held. But it’s also been 8 straight seasons of mediocrity (or below) in the ACC. Is a season a success as long as SU wins 2 games in March? Next year’s recruiting class is very good. Boeheim deserves credit for assembling a staff that can sign those guys. He also deserves credit for building a national brand that can attract that talent, and a reputation that helps seal the deal. But watching Duke come into the Dome and blister the Orange was another cold, harsh reality. Coach K, at the end of his tenure, can win a national title (once again). Boeheim at the end, whenever that will be, has a program limping to the finish line as one of his worst ever. And the chasm between Syracuse and Duke only continues to widen.
Boeheim walked to the postgame podium and his first words spoke volumes. “At the end of the day, there was nothing we could do…” So Syracuse watches powerless, apparently realizing it does not belong on the same floor as the best teams. Boeheim could’ve also been talking for all Orange fans who are once again powerless while watching a plodding program get roasted by the ACC elite.