Then and Now - basketball |

Then and Now - basketball


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Here is my annual look back at my pre-season preview and comments on what transpired during the season. What I wrote in October is in italics. It’s now March and the season is over. My current comments are not in italics.

For years we’ve bemoaned the fact that other schools went to more Final Fours and won more NCAA championships, but we had that streak. They had all had losing or even seasons while we marched onward. The streak is not gone but it’s over and that, if not tragic, is at least very regrettable.
And we’ve done a lot of regretting in recent years. It came to a head last season as SU fans increasingly came to the conclusion that the program had been slipping for years and that the slide was accelerating. Fans can be loyal, interested, critical or apathetic. They were critical last year. The next step, if we can’t get back on track, is apathy.

My goal for this schools year, as stated in my football preview is to follow up the first ever year when our football team, our men’s basketball team and our men’s lacrosse team all had losing records with a year when they all have winning records. Our football team did their part, despite losing 6 of their last 7 games. Our basketball team followed suit, despite losing 5 of their last 6 games. We’ll see about lacrosse, which at this writing is 4-4 with 7 regular season games left, 5 against ranked teams, including #1 Notre Dame and #3 Virginia. But the non-conference schedule was weakened and the ACC was down so the basketball achievement is dubious, (but still counts!)

The apathy problem continues, as exemplified by the fact that we got 24,000, (officially) for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of our national champions, an even that would have drawn 34,000 a decade ago. I sit at the end of a row in section 308 and counted 16 empty seats to my left. In the old days, I’d have to fight to stay on the row.

From 2009-14 we averaged 30 wins a year and had three different teams that achieved a #1 ranking. That’s where Syracuse basketball should be and we’d slipped from that peak to be a middle-of the pack ACC program with 8 consecutive season of double-digit losses. We weren’t competitive with what Syracuse should be. That one national championship ties us with 22 schools that have won that many, including CCNY, Holy Cross, LaSalle, Loyola of Chicago and UTEP. Six schools have two of them. Our old friends Louisville and Villanova have three. Our other old friend, Connecticut, has four as does Kansas, who won it last year. Duke and Indiana have 5, North Carolina 6, Kentucky 8 and UCLA 11. We want to climb up and join the programs we consider to be elite so we can be elite ourselves. And not only have we slid away from contention for the national title, we seem to get farther away with each year.

Yes, we averaged 30-7 from 2009-14 and 25-8 for Jim Boeheim’s first 38 years – and 19-14 in the nine years since. The last poll before the NCAA tournament in each of those nine years contained NO votes for Syracuse to be in the Top 25. Seven years ago, and SU team many felt should not be in the tournament made a series of improbable comebacks to become the worst team in the Final Four and wound up #10 in the final poll. Two years later, we went for the “First Four” to the Sweet 16 and got 79 votes for the Top 25 in the final poll, the most of any team that didn’t make it. Two years ago, we made the Sweet 16 again and wound up ranked #25. In those first 38 years we had 27 teams that made the final Top 25, 12 of which were in the Top 10.

The head coach, of course, took the brunt of the criticism for the recent results and they appear to have finally convinced Jim Boeheim to make his critics happy by retiring. We’re all rooting for the new head coach, Adrian Autry, to return us to our days of glory. The question is: will a coaching change fix everything? The probation hit us hard but the downturn also coincided with the move to the ACC. We get more money by being in the ACC but out conference rivals get the same money, so it doesn’t give us a competitive advantage over them and the records of schools who have left a conference based in their part of the country leaving to attach themselves to a conference based in another part of the country isn’t very good on the whole. Then there’s the influence of Steph Curry and the Warriors, who have produced a generation of players who want to hit long jump shots rather spectacular dunks. Our 2-3 is stretched father and father out to defend them, creating weaknesses we never had before. And now there is the transfer portal, where you have to re-recruit all your players and bringing in high school players, as Boeheim did with his last class, puts us at a disadvantage against those schools who sued the transfer portal to bring in experienced players. And the use, (mis use?) of NIL means that you have to basically buy players to get them to come to your school. Do we have what it takes to return to glory in this era? Or is 19-14 who we are now?

For this preview, as I usually do, I got Lindy’s College Basketball preview, (I usually get Athlon’s, too for a stereoscopic view but they didn’t seem to be publishing one anymore). On page 220 they have a list of the top 100 incoming freshman. The only one of our guys to make the cut was Judah Mintz, who was rated 79th. Duke also had a six man class: #1, #4, #8, #14, #40, #66. How do we compete with that? Nonetheless, watching the highlight films of our six guys I do believe that they are dynamic talents who could create a renaissance for our program. But that’s looking at them through my orange-colored glasses. Even I wonder why they look so good to me when they aren’t highly rated by others… I decided to look at the current rankings on the site 247, (which combines the rankings of other services), just to update them: Judah Mintz was rated the 51st best recruit in the country and the 7th best ‘combo’ guard. Chris Bunch was #107, the 27th best small forward. Justin Taylor is #124 and the 30th best small forward. Quadir Copeland is #136 and the 17th best combo guard. Maliq Brown was #220 and the #48 power forward. Peter Carey is #248 and the 55th best power forward. That’s not very encouraging, especially when you compare it to Duke’s class. I think that this is a good group, nonetheless, and they may well fit together and be better than the sum of it’s parts.

But I’ve also done a study on five man classes, covered in the same thread, (see link, above): “That’s seven previous freshman classes that were this large. Sixteen players stayed here through their full eligibility. Three players lasted for 3 years, Twelve stayed for 2 years. Three left after 1 year. One guy never played. That’s an average of two 4-year players, two 2-year players and another guy that leaves after the first year from a 5 year class.” So it’s hard to hold these classes together. And now it’s harder than ever with the transfer portal: players who aren’t starting see no reason to stay if someone out there may need their talents. Attrition may destroy any chance for their group to gel. Recruiting may be harder as well: what if we can’t match other schools’ NIL? Name, Image and Likeness isn’t just about doing car commercials. Boosters can offer players exorbitant salaries in exchange for coming here. What if these guys leave and we can’t replace them?

The six freshmen had widely varying first seasons. Judah Mintz became one of the top guards in the conference. Maliq Brown proved a savvy, productive power forward, lacking only a jump shot of any sort. Chris Bell, (formerly Bunch) was an inconsistent shooter under any name and did little else to help the team. Justin Taylor had one terrific game with 25 points in the frustrating loss to Bryant but did little the rest of the year, save for the two games again Virginia Tech, his only other double-figure games in which he scored a total of 22 points. Qadir Copeland used his athleticism to help us on the press but he had no shot and didn’t have the ball enough to show off his passing ability. Peter Carey, who missed the 2021 season due to Covid and the 2022 season due to injury, played 20 minutes in three games without scoring and then decided to redshirt so he could have an operation. Aside from Mintz and a contribution from Brown, the veteran players carried the team. The problem was, there weren’t enough of them and the freshman had to play a lot of mintues.

The thing is, a week after the transfer portal opened, they are all still here. If that holds, Jim Boeheim’s gamble of investing in a group of young players may yet come to fruition, as would the decision to replace Jim with an internal promotion in the form of Red Autry. In fact their relationship with Autry may be the reason why they are still here.

Many in fan base have already descended into cynicism. Another year like the last eight – or worse and apathy will set in and that could set this program back for years. I’m a Met fan and was pleased and delighted to see my team burst out of the gate like champions and win more games than they had since their 1986 champions. They not only had good players but those players played an aggressive, efficient and opportunistic brand of ball that was a joy to watch. They ran out of gas at the end and we got caught by the defending champion Braves and lost to a Padre team that could be the next champion, (Update: Nope.) but, to use Buck Showalter’s favorite term, they were “fun to watch”. The SU football team did the same thing and are having a huge comeback season of their own at this writing. They are also fun to watch. (Update: They were.) This year’s SU basketball team could be fun to watch as well and could win like we haven’t won in years. We need them to, or the Jim Boeheim Era may, like the streak of winning seasons, end with whimper instead of a bang.

It was a wimper, although the regular season finale, with the tribute to the 2003 was a bang. As with virtually every one of the seasons in this nine year stretch, we got punched in the guy with unexpected early losses and had to climb out of a hole to have any chance at the Big Dance. We did make something of a comeback, going 13-6 after a 3-4 start but, other than home wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, we couldn’t seem to beat anybody really good, the sort of team that would impress the NCAA committee. Then just as we needed to floor it to even climb up onto the NCAA bubble, we blew our tires, losing to Duke, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech by from 17-22 points. The pattern was that the other team would fill the air with threes and make enough of them that we had to stretch the zone to the breaking point, which allowed the option to dominate inside as well as out. The shocker was the Tech game. Duke, Clemson and Pittsburgh were contenders. Tech came in at 4-14 in the conference and we’d beaten them in their place by 17. They used what they’d seen the Blue Devils, Tigers and Panthers do to beat us so badly and won by 20. We were not ‘fun to watch’ unless you were rooting for the other team. That was pretty much the last straw. JB said he thought it might be time to retire with this four game losing streak. As one last coaching achievement, he took this now uncompetitive team and turned them around to beat a decent Wake Forest in the Dome finale to clinch the winning season and then we lost to the same team on a buzzer-beater in the ACC tournament and it was over.

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