At this stage, it is going to be disappointing if Syracuse misses the NCAA tournament, what would be the third time in four years.
Thinking back to the beginning of the season, that is exactly what everyone expected though. Syracuse entered the season 68th in the KenPom rankings, Sports Illustrated projected the Orange to go 8-10, and Syracuse.com’s Brent Axe predicted a regular season record of 19-12.
In short, this team met expectations.
“If anything, they could have done something less than what they did,” said Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim.
All of those predictions were assuming that Howard Washington would stay healthy, as would Bourama Sidibe. Also missing from the calculations was the departure of Geno Thorpe.
That does not mean that the season was not frustrating.
“We are about as challenged offensively as you can be,” said Boeheim.
Syracuse has been inconsistent on the offensive end all season long. The Orange averaged 67.6 points per game, tied for 309th in the country. It shot just under 42 percent from the floor as a team, tied for 311th. This team can go minutes without scoring a basket, and has with regularity. Essentially, there are only three players that score on the team in Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard.
Like all good Boeheim teams though, the defense keeps them in it. Syracuse ranked 8th in opponents’ field goal percentage at 39.5 and 12th in opponents’ points per game allowing 64.1.
“It’s the only way we can play. We don’t have a choice,” said Boeheim.
That formula was on display again in a 55-52 win over Clemson. The Orange limited the Tigers to 40 percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers.
“It was just a grind it out game,” said Boeheim. “It was a tough defensive game. The offense has struggled all year.”
Syracuse’s brand of basketball this year is ugly and always frustrating. It is easy to point all over the schedule at games the Orange should have won, specifically Notre Dame, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. As simple as that seems, it goes both ways.
“We could have snuck a game out here or there, but we could have lost a couple of games we won,” said Boeheim. He continued, “That’s the way it works. We squeezed a couple out, we lost a couple that you could have won, but when we started the year, once Taurean [Thompson] left, people thought we were going to be 14th or 15th or 13th in the league.”
The ACC is just as deep as it always seems as well.
“I don’t care where we finish, we are a game or two out of sixth place or some place,” said Boeheim. “It’s not really what your number is, it’s how close are you. We’re right there.”
This is exactly where Syracuse was supposed to be. Now it has a chance to go further with some wins in the ACC tournament.
“We don’t have anything easy,” said Boeheim. “We have to go earn what we can in New York.”
Syracuse takes on Wake Forest on Tuesday, searching for its first ACC tournament win. A victory over the Demon Deacons would set up a rematch with North Carolina in the second round. It might be tough, but the Orange still controls its own destiny.