Syracuse, N.Y. — It was back in January, back when promise was in the Central New York air and hope was all but packed in lunch bags around here, back when the Syracuse University Orange had a grip, however wobbly, on its own basketball destiny, that Jim Boeheim made the declaration that has become an epitaph.
“All that matters,” the big man stated without a hint of equivocation, “is what you do in the NCAA Tournament. That’s all that matters.”
Which inspires the question: Now what?
Boeheim’s gang was denied on Sunday evening. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee vetted the Wake Forests and Kansas States, the Providences and Southern Californias, the Xaviers and Vanderbilts … and came to believe that everyone in that at-large bunch, despite their cumulative 75 defeats, was worthier than SU.
So the Orange, at 18-14 and a loser of five of its last seven starts, is off to the NIT. To something its boss insists matters not at all. And the challenge begins because selling snorkels in the Sahara might be easier than hawking tickets to Syracuse’s 33rd game of this campaign that heaved its last meaningful breath during CBS-TV’s Selection Show.
“Everybody’s disappointed,” Boeheim glumy confessed soon after the 68-team field had been identified and his outfit had been shunned. “That’s only what you would expect. Nobody’s happy.”
Now, a fairly eloquent argument could be made that SU — with its overall ACC showing of 10-9, its victories over three Top 10 squads (at the time) and its general status as a college basketball colossus (ramrodded by a Hall-of-Fame coach and fresh off a Final Four run, to boot) — could/should have received one of those 36 at-large berths.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to defend a club that went 2-11 outside its building, suffered eight double-digit losses (including seven by 14 points or more) and was beaten by Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown and St. John’s (which otherwise staggered to a combined record of 49-77).
Facts, then, are facts. And here is just one more: The Orange — sliding for a while now with a 62-47 ramble across its last 109 contests — put its fate in the hands of the ringside judges. And it lost (and likely on a split decision) to some group or another in that murky collection of Demon Deacons, Wildcats, Friars, Trojans, Musketeers and Commodores.
In context, that is a shame because this Syracuse crew — the first in school history to have two different athletes score 40 or more points in a game (John Gillon III vs. North Carolina State; Andrew White III vs. Georgia Tech) — might have made some noise in the Tournament.
It had that pain-in-the-keister zone defense. It had an array of shooters (Gillon, White, Tyler Lydon and Tyus Battle). It had that presumed first-round NBA draft choice (Lydon). It had those springy forwards (Tyler Roberson and Taurean Thompson). It had enough, in fact, to have inspired Boeheim to once upon a time proclaim that he was about to sic one of this best-ever teams on the opposition.
But after Sunday’s snub, that preseason vision — which, to be fair, did include a healthy Dajuan Coleman and Paschal Chukwu, at a combined 14ish feet and nearly 500 pounds, in the middle — seems now to have been affected by a cinder in an eye.
Thus, what is … is.
“The year before last was kind of mediocre,” said Boeheim only a few days after his January rejection of all things not NCAA Tournament. “This year is kind of mediocre. And that happens in this business. It’s hard not to have that happen. We’ve done it eight and 10 years in a row. And some people have gone 20 years in a row, but that’s very hard. It’s a very difficult landscape in college basketball. There’s parity and other stuff. You can slip very easily.
“We’ve had three or four different times in 40 years where we were going to struggle. Sometimes it’s harder than others. Then there’s always a re-birth when you get a couple of guys and you get back. But through our history, we had a couple of NIT years and then we got good. Then, we had an NIT year and a mediocre NCAA year. We’ve had two or three of those times.”
Now, there is this third or fourth. And lookee here. The Spartans from North Carolina-Greensboro — yeah, Greensboro … Boeheim’s Shangri-La (not) — are coming to the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night to play in something that doesn’t matter at all beginning at 7 o’clock.
Get your tickets.
(There will be plenty available.)
(Bud also can be heard weekday mornings between 10-12 on the “Bud & the Manchild” sports-talk radio show on ESPN Radio 97.7 FM, 100.1 FM and 1200 AM.)
If all that matters is NCAA Tournament, now what for Syracuse basketball? – Syracuse.com