SU is 3-4, having just suffered a disappointing 29-point loss to number 16 Illinois on Tuesday night after getting beaten at the buzzer by Bryant a couple of days prior. That marked the Orange’s second mid-major loss of the season, having already been taken down by Colgate in mid-November. Syracuse did show a lot of heart and fight in Brooklyn, beating Richmond in overtime one night before losing to St. John’s in an extra period the next.
But, outside of those neutral site games, the Orange have been bad, and that’s concerning. The schedule after playing at Notre Dame, who might finish in the upper echelon of the ACC this season, is relatively easy. The last four nonconference games are Oakland, Georgetown, Monmouth, and Cornell. All very winnable contests. All four of those teams are 150th or worse on kenpom.com, and Oakland and Monmouth are both in the 300s.
The Orange have to be 7-5 (expecting a loss in South Bend) heading into late December and conference play. SU opens its ACC full slate with Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Louisville, three more winnable games. In reality, Syracuse should be on a seven-game winning streak heading to Charlottesville on January 7th. But, it’s not that simple.
The Orange have either been playing down to the level of their competition against mid-majors or just are not very good. The reality is, Syracuse is significantly better (at least they better be) than the next four teams they’ll face after Notre Dame. Last season was Jim Boeheim’s first under .500 in his entire tenure in Central New York, and if the Orange don’t take advantage of this schedule, they’ll probably do it for two consecutive years.
It’s not just about playing as a team, rotating defensively, and competing for 40 minutes, it’s a realization of who you are and why you are on the court. Yes, this is not Boeheim’s most talented team ever, but it might be the youngest and most inexperienced, which is why they need to play free and loose because how else do they know how to play? You’re not going up against Illinois every night, a team full of transfers and experience in college basketball.
So, play free of expectations, because right now there are none. Boeheim did his group a disservice preseason with what he said about them. Yes, it is good to have confidence in your players, but declaring you’ll make the tournament and that this is one of your best-recruiting classes ever to then saying Colgate is and always was better than you are as hypocritical as it gets. Something has to give there.
This program is in a rut and transition period right now. Boeheim is close to being on the way out, and maybe it’s sooner than everyone thinks. But as long as he is still roaming the sidelines, the expectations will still be there for what he has built, and that’s a perennial tournament contender, a conference contender, and a tough matchup every night. Those three things appear to have fallen by the wayside, and that’s cause for concern for the program as a whole.