At this point the expectations are so diminished for the Syracuse basketball squad, I’d be beyond cliché if this column simply harped on the Orange’s odds of missing the NCAA tournament. Allow me to take it a step further- this just might be the absolute worst team Jim Boeheim has ever had, and they’ll be lucky to make the NIT.
Don’t get me wrong: I like this team. I really do. It’s been a joy to watch Rakeem Christmas become what we always dreamed he could be, and probably didn’t think he ever actually would be. The fact that he’s putting up 19 and 9 every night and heading for the NBA lottery, out of relative obscurity, has been a revelation.
I also enjoy following the ups and down of Trevor Cooney, his shooting peaks and valleys and total lack of anything resembling a conscience. I believe that he, and the rest of the Orange, play as hard as they can every night, and might even provide some upset specials in late February and early March.
But the simple fact is numbers do not lie. Historically, this could be Boeheim’s worst unit ever.
There are 10 games remaining in conference play, and the only “sure thing” is against Virginia Tech on February 3- made more difficult than it should be thanks to an excruciatingly long 7 days off between games. Beyond that, it is entirely feasible for the Orange to lose every game and finish 15-16.
It’s not likely of course, but the mere fact that it’s possible speaks volumes to how far the mighty Orange has fallen.
If, and yes it’s a big, yet possible if, Syracuse finishes 15-16, or 16-15, it will mark the most losses in the 39 years Jim Boeheim has coached this school.
This season the highest AP ranking the Orange held was 23, its preseason ranking. It quickly fell out of the top 25, and baring some sort of miracle, won’t find it’s way back in. The only other time a Boeheim team didn’t rank higher than 21st at some point during the season? The 1981-82 squad that wasn’t ranked at all during the year, finished 16-13, and is the current titleholder of worst ‘Cuse team under Boeheim.
This year’s version isn’t particularly good at anything. It does rank 16th in the country in steals and assists, which is nice. But ranks 158th out of 351 in FG shooting, 281st in FT shooting and 259th in 3-point shooting. Imagine how many assists they’d have if they could make a shot?
With the “stat-lining” games out of the way against lessor competition, the Orange still finds itself only averaging 69.1 points per contest. In the past 17 seasons the only time they scored less frequently was last season at a 68.0 ppg clip. Give it time, this team will beat that dubious distinction.
It’s too bad you can’t tank in College, because looking ahead is all we have right now, especially with sanctions looming. But there’s always next year. Chris McCullough is coming back thanks to his injury (or at least he should) and our young guys like freshman point guard Kalib Joseph need time to develop. If this was the NBA, Christmas would be “injuring his back” in the next 2-3 weeks as the Orange positions itself to land a top draft pick to add to the mix next season.
Alas, this is not the NBA, and a fan base accustomed to prestige and glory, will have to learn to accept failure and humiliation.
So as you watch these remaining games and wonder either aloud or mutter to yourself, “how bad can it get?” The answer is the absolute worst it’s ever been. So take solace in the fact you may be witnessing history, because there really isn’t anything else happening worth watching.