The NBA Draft is finally upon us. For the first time in seven years, there will not be a Syracuse player who has his name called in the first round of the draft. Tyus Battle ended any possibility of that streak continuing when he announced he would be returning to Central New York for his junior year.
It would be safe to assume a team playing in the ACC that did not have a single player enter the draft struggled during the previous season. In some respects, that notion is accurate. Syracuse barely made the NCAA tournament, posted a losing record in conference play for the first time in program history and produced one of the streakiest offensive teams in the country.
However, the Orange did make the tournament, and it thrived. It showed the potential for the future. It also showed similarities to the past.
2011 was the last time SU did not have a player selected in the first round. The 2010-11 Syracuse team had a better regular season than the one the Orange most recently produced, but it became clear it was a team destined for a bright future.
Rick Jackson was the only player to leave the team that year. Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche, Fab Melo, C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Baye Keita all returned. The talent was evident, as was the depth. That depth improved even more with the addition of Trevor Cooney, Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas for the upcoming year.
The 2011-12 season was nothing short of incredible. Syracuse won 30 games in the regular season, the lone blemish coming on the road against Notre Dame. The Orange earned a one seed in the tournament and made a run to the Elite Eight. Needless to say, it was an impressive year, even if the team fell a little short of its potential.
While several members of the Elite Eight squad departed, it was not the end of the run for the members that existed on that 2010-11 team. Triche, Southerland and Fair still remained from the group that did not produce an NBA pick. Cooney, Carter-Williams and Christmas, the highly-touted recruiting class of 2011, joined them as the new core for the Orange.
Fewer regular season wins came for the 2012-13 team, but it did advance a round further in the NCAA tournament. After toppling Indiana and blowing out Marquette, Syracuse fell to Michigan in the Final Four.
This is the exact same situation for SU in 2018. The team returns Battle, Frank Howard, Paschal Chukwu, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe and Howard Washington. It also adds transfer Elijah Hughes and new recruits Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim and Robert Braswell. The expectations for this year’s team are likely not as high as those from years past, but the formula is mostly the same.
The 2013 Final Four team did not start a single freshman; this year’s Syracuse starting lineup will likely not feature a rookie either. Neither team experienced a ton of turnover and both feature players that could have already left for the draft but decided to stay in college for another year.
Syracuse is far from being favorites to win the national championship, but the previous three titles were won by experienced teams with capable benches. They also all experienced postseason success the year before they won. Villanova won the Big East tournament in 2015 before winning it all in 2016. North Carolina lost to ‘Nova in the that national title game before taking home the trophy itself the following year. The Wildcats won the conference tournament again in 2017 before they reclaimed the national championship in April.
It is far from a guarantee, but the Orange are starting to look the part of a true contender.