Fifty years from now when Syracuse fans are perusing the annals of sports seasons past, the most recent chapters authored by the football and men’s basketball teams will certainly gather more dust than page turns. Both squads are guilty of crashing and burning this past year, although perhaps that’s a bit unfair to Jim Boeheim’s bunch. Boeheim and his staff have raised the level of the hoops program to one of the true elites over the past six seasons. Orange football fans are used to seeing the team struggle for the better part of the last decade. Both teams had reasons to be optimistic heading into the year but the train quickly derailed early in each season. (Check yesterday’s story for the scoop on the football team.)
The Orange started the season after suffering heavy losses on the personnel front. CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita had graduated while Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant chased NBA dollars. Still, SU returned Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, and Rakeem Christmas while welcoming freshmen Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph.
Lacking offensive firepower, struggling to shoot from beyond the arc, and introducing two freshmen to the art of zone defense, the Orange struggled early. Those struggles continued throughout the season. Syracuse lost seven games by 10 or more points including the last three of the year by a combined 45 points.
For a team already thin in the front court (DaJuan Coleman sat out the season nursing a knee injury), disaster struck three games into ACC play as super frosh Chris McCullough was lost for the year due to a torn ACL. Tyler Roberson was thrust into the starting lineup. Roberson had an up-and-down campaign. He’d be a non-factor in some games and then he’d light up Duke for 19 pints and 10 rebounds. Compounding the loss of McCullough was his curios decision to declare for the NBA Draft after stating his intentions to return for his sophomore campaign.
When February rolled around, the NCAA dropped the hammer on Syracuse and specifically Boeheim. The Orange self-imposed a ban on the NCAA Tournament for this season but the NCAA sanctions packed a bigger punch. Boeheim was banned from coaching the first nine ACC games the following season. And Syracuse was hit with scholarship reductions of three per year for four years. The Orange has elected to start the clock on those reductions with the 2015-16 season.
Despite no post season carrot to shoot for, the players didn’t pack it in. The thin front court, sporadic point guard play and poor shooting was too much to overcome. Syracuse limped across the finish line with an 18-13 record. The 13 setbacks included 0-3 against Duke and North Carolina and five home losses. The bright spot to the season were victories over Iowa, Louisville and Notre Dame.
The misery continued into the offseason. Both BJ Johnson and Ron Patterson announced plans to transfer. Coveted big man recruit Thomas Bryant selected Indiana over Syracuse. He stated that the turmoil surrounding the Orange was a factor in his decision.