Nothing quite showcases the highs and lows of a collegiate season quite like a basketball postseason tournament. Of all the teams that have played or will play on this week, Syracuse men’s hoops may best personify the hectic emotional nature of the postseason.
After a mostly listless regular season, SU ambushed its first round ACC Tournament opponent and obliterated Florida State on Wednesday, much like the Orange did to UNC in 2020 and NC State in 2021. But in the midst of a 96-57 bludgeoning, it was guard Buddy Boeheim’s fist that landed the most meaningful blow. His one-game suspension for hitting FSU’s Wyatt Wilkes didn’t singlehandedly doom Syracuse against Duke, but will likely be an unfortunate part of his legacy. Buddy deserves to be remembered for much better.
The question of remembering will always be a challenge when we think about the 2021-22 Syracuse Orange. In all likelihood, they’re already on their way to becoming a footnote. Beyond Jim Boeheim’s first-ever losing season at 16-17, this Syracuse team felt like the end of a three-to-four year era. It didn’t have Elijah Hughes to star in the spotlight or a suddenly-emergent Buddy Boeheim. Instead, it had trivia answers like Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider manning the floor – guys we’ll look back on with an eyebrow raise and a double take when we ask, “Wow, remember him?”
Next year, a crop of five (or possibly more) talented recruits looks to be well-equipped to upend head coach Jim Boeheim’s usual embargo on meaningful freshman minutes. Sandwiched in between last season’s Sweet Sixteen run and the imminent new era was this year’s bunch. Like the Salt City snow we just watched melt away on our sidewalks, we’re already beginning to forget them.
Consider this a retrospective and a eulogy for 45 seasons of better days.
The final record of this year’s squad isn’t all that bad. Teams that beat Syracuse this year like Pitt and especially Georgetown would kill to be just one game under .500. Instead, any disappointment you feel right now is probably owed to expectations that were a tad too lofty. Center Jesse Edwards was one of the few who lived up to his billing. Forward Cole Swider proved he could hang as a Division I starter, but he was too inconsistent to finish up as any kind of noteworthy breakout performer. Freshman Benny Williams’ first season was a struggle, but he handled it as well as possible – and don’t say we didn’t warn you. Our bold predictions fell spectacularly flat, and only three of our seven writers came within three games of correctly guessing how many wins SU would finish with. At the moment, we all look like victims of hype.
Throughout it all, Jim Boeheim steadfastly refused to back down, even likely knowing how tough his spot looked. He kept on trotting out his usual five starters to a fault while understanding how thin his bench was, fought off incessant questions about Joe Girard, and rejected musings about his retirement, even as we all faced some ice-cold realities about both Boeheim and the program.
As Syracuse men’s basketball ventures into new territory and with an unfamiliar new “loser” label, it’s time to officially recalibrate your expectations. Barring transfer portal additions, the team looks to be ready to start multiple freshmen next year. If it does end up being Boeheim’s last year, just hope he leaves the team in better shape next March than what they’re in right now. If 45 years of winning capital mean anything, we should all have faith he can.