Each Monday during the summer, The Juice Online will be looking back to some of the biggest storylines in the 2011-12 Syracuse sports year. This week, we take a look back at Syracuse basketball’s magical run.
Syracuse enjoyed one of its finest seasons on the court, winning its first 20 games of the season while being the top ranked team in the country for a six week stretch. The Orange was also a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, making it to the Elite 8 before being stopped by the Ohio State Buckeyes.
For the season, SU finished 34-3, and was the Big East’s Regular Season Champions.
It was one of the most unique teams in Syracuse history, not just because of their success, but also in how they achieved it.
Syracuse was one of the few teams in the country with a 10-deep rotation. Ten different players averaged more than 10 minutes a game with seven of those players averaging six points or more.
Yet, for a team with so many options on offense, it was a team that lacked a true go-to player. Kris Joseph led the team in scoring, but averaged just 13.4 ppg. Dion Waiters, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine each had their turns as the team’s top scorer, but none of them were consistent throughout the year.
Instead, the Orange was the sum of its parts. Fab Melo, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita protected the rim. CJ Fair, James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and Waiters were the sparks off the bench. Triche, Joseph and Jardine were the leaders.
It was that formula that allowed the Orange to thrive, even with the Bernie Fine scandal, the Yahoo! Sports drug test story and Melo being deemed ineligible twice.
It is the latter that affected the team the most. Two of its three losses came without Melo manning the middle. With Melo, who knows what would’ve happened against Ohio State? Would Sullinger have had a field day inside? Would the Orange have been able to ignite its transition offense? No one will ever know for sure.
Still, it was one of the most successful seasons in Syracuse history, and one that is not soon to be forgotten.
WHAT WE SAID:
It’s been three weeks since I wrote that Syracuse’s early season competition lacked any true tests, and we wouldn’t know where the team stood until Big East play in January. So allow me to pull a 180 and scream from the rooftops on Dec. 15, “CUSE IS NO. 1!” The top ranking brings a new importance to each game, and a new sense of significance as the team is discussed ad nauseam on-line and on all major sports networks. But more importantly, for a fan base that ranks among the very best in college basketball, the No. 1 ranking is a welcome distraction from the alleged horrors of the Bernie Fine saga. — Matt Goodman
If you told anyone that Syracuse would lose just 1 game in the regular season and make it to the Elite 8. I think 10 out of 10 people would consider that a successful season. I think as they kept winning, our expectations rose as well. But when you look back at past seasons. This has to be one of those Top 2 or 3 most successful seasons in the last 10 years. — Saugat Sen
WHAT THEY SAID:
Syracuse still has a tendency for defensive lulls. Marquette scored 47 points in the second half to make the game a lot more interesting than anyone could have imagined during a 23-1 first-half run by Syracuse. But the Orange continue to get tremendous balance from their deep rotation, and they continue to rise to various challenges from teams — road environment at Providence and a tough challenge from Marquette this week — and are always able to finish. This is the No. 1 team in America, and it deserves to be the No. 1 team in America. — Andy Katz, ESPN
SU, playing for the first time this season as the top-rated squad in the nation, showed everybody exactly how a club at the head of the line is supposed to look. [...] Oh, there were some queasy stretches along the way to Syracuse’s eventual 88-72 victory. The Wolfpack did jump out to a 23-15 lead to absolutely rock the building that the folks here insist is the loudest in all the land. And then it came back to tie the Orange, which had roared to a 47-33 advantage at the break, less than five minutes into the second half. — Bud Poliquin, The Post-StandardWesley Cheng