Orange Watch: Potential exists for historically poor Syracuse basketball record


Trevor Cooney, one of two players remaining from the ‘13 Final Four team, looks to lead the Orange up the ACC standings following a 0-4 start

Item: At 10-7 (0-4) after 17 games, and with 14 ACC games left to play including four of five games against nationally ranked (week of Jan. 11) North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Louisville coming on the road, is the unthinkable really thinkable? Could Syracuse suffer its worst season record during Jim Boeheim’s 40 year tenure (the mark is currently held by the 1981-82 NIT squad’s final 16-13 (.552) record, with the 1996-97 NIT team that finished 19-13 (.594) not too far behind)? First matters first, stopping a four game losing streak for only the fourth time in the Boeheim era hosting Boston College Wednesday night (7:00 p.m. ET / ACCRSNs-ESPN3).

It wasn’t even 23 months ago that we were swooning over a 25-0 start and a No. 1 ranking for the 2013-14 Orange, not only coming off the program’s fifth trip the Final Four the previous spring, but also culminating an incredible five year, 149-36 (.805) blitz of being a national semifinalist, another trip to the Elite Eight and two Sweet 16 appearances, that coincided the season before the commemorative first basket made by Carmelo Anthony during his namesake building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sept. 2009.

But since the unfortunate decision to wear Nike’s mandated bizarre-looking orange jersey and blue shorts retro style uniform combination in the upset loss to (ironically) a bad 6-19 Boston College team on Feb. 19, 2014, a fashion faux pas which seemingly jinxed that top ranked team, the ‘Cuse has gone 31-25 (.553 – right there with the ’81-82 team’s nadir), 1-2 in the post season, and struggled often through a second NCAA-related ban on post season play ending the ’14-15 season on the earliest calendar date, March 7, for any Orange team since the 1968-69 squad went 9-16 (ending March 1 that year), the last sub .500 finish to any Syracuse basketball season.

» Related: Back from suspension, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim looks forward

In fact, after suffering its fourth straight conference defeat for only the second time under Boeheim’s (and a little of Mike Hopkins’) watch (the 1996-97 team dropped its first four Big East games in two, two game streaks during Dec. and Jan. that season) in the improved performance against current No. 5 ranked North Carolina this past Saturday night, it would seem that Boeheim has one of his most challenging teaching seasons left in front of him navigating the robust ACC 14 more times.

“(We’ve) got to get this thing (losing streak) fixed, and we’re going to try,” Boeheim said in his sometimes common half serious, half sarcastic tone following his return to the bench against the talented Tar Heels. “We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

There’s no easy fix. With the center position practically a non-entity against league competition so far, a zone defense that has been picked and prodded for points both inside and out, a propensity to live and die offensively by the three (35% through Saturday ) and struggles at the foul line (67%), and a depth issue which has basically only two players contributing off the bench, a struggling B.C. team (7-8, 0-2) coming off a 28 point home loss to Notre Dame might be the perfect antidote to prevent a first-ever five game losing streak under Boeheim.

“It’s very frustrating,” Trevor Cooney said following the UNC defeat when asked about coming close in the four ACC games with nothing to show for it in the standings.

Cooney, along with Dajuan Coleman are the two remaining contributors from the ’13 Final Four team, so they’ve enjoyed the best of times along with the current tough stretch.

“We’re not getting blown out every single night, we’re coming out here and fighting and we’re right there (close but no cigar),” Cooney continued. “We’ve got to learn from it (the defeats) and move forward, and learn how to close games, and learn how to win games.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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