Syracuse is flawed, but is that fatal?

Syracuse did it to me again.


When it comes to Syracuse basketball, I’m the Orange’s biggest skeptic. I’ve been burned too many times with teams that seem to have limitless talent only to fall short. But, the first half of this season actually got me excited. Every question and concern I had seemed completely unfounded.

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Dion Waiters went from bench player with a bad attitude to the best sixth man in all of college basketball.

Fab Melo moved from 7-feet of wasted space to a legitimate big man and defensive star.

And the depth…oh, the depth. Syracuse has waves upon waves of Orange clad basketball greatness. It doesn’t matter that nobody on the team is averaging over 15 points per game, because who needs one go to player when you have seven of them?

I didn’t think this team could actually lose.

So, by last Friday I was on board. Not just on board, I was driving the bandwagon. This column was originally going to be about how this was the best team Syracuse team ever.

Then the Melo suspension came. And then the Notre Dame game happened.

Suddenly, like a teenage girl thinking about her weight, all my insecurities came flooding back. This team is inconsistent from 3. They can’t rebound. When down late, their ability to make smart decisions completely disappear.

Flaw, flaws, flaws, so many flaws.

And just like that, I’m out.

The Cincinnati game didn’t do much to make feel better. A win is a win, but it wasn’t the dominant performance I’d come to expect.

Chalk it up to irrational expectations.

But this is why writing for a sports blog is a good thing. You see, while preparing for this article, I actually had to think about this team. It’s tough for me as a fan because I’m admittedly completely insane. In my world of sports, everything is based on emotion, and my emotions were telling me that this team now sucks, is too flawed to be a contender, and I shouldn’t waste my energy again.

Take a look at other Syracuse message boards. There are many others like me.

But the more I thought about this team, the more my mind started to drift back to the previous Syracuse teams I loved. Then a realization about these teams from the past hit me like a ton of bricks.

Those teams were all flawed too. And not just flawed, they all had huge glaring flaws.

Suddenly, I felt better about this team.

The 2003 team will always have a special place in my heart. Years of frustration finally came to an end. But, we need to be honest with ourselves. That team got lucky.

Really lucky.

The road to New Orleans just circled the greater northeast. The competition consisted almost solely of Big 12 teams that had no idea how to play against a 2-3 zone. You couldn’t ask for a better road to a national title.

Now, I don’t want to take anything away from that team. It takes a lot to win a national title. But, that was a flawed group. They got very little production at center. They struggled against teams that had any size. You could count the games against UConn as guaranteed losses. Pitt’s big bodies could dominate skinny Warrick and the not so nasty Craig Forth, though Syracuse did manage to pull of one win against the Panthers. The loss to Rutgers cancels that out, though.

Offensively, Syracuse was primarily a two freshmen offensive show that season. Warrick had started to come into his own, but honestly, if GMac wasn’t draining 3s and Carmelo wasn’t being Carmelo, this team was going to lose. Josh Pace wasn’t going to glue-guy us to a victory.

My favorite Syracuse of all time wasn’t just the team that got me into Syracuse basketball, but was also the team that I’ve always considered the best of all time. This was the 1987-1988 Orangemen. Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman on one college team?!?

That’s an insane amount of talent, and I haven’t even mentioned my childhood favorite Stevie Thompson yet. He was the best dunker in Syracuse history. When I was eight years old, I met him at a McDonald’s. Even the way he dunked his chicken nuggets in barbeque sauce was awesome.

Remember Matt Roe draining threes? Herman Harried…umm, being there?

Sheer awesomeness. That starting lineup was outstanding, and there was no better team for a little boy from upstate New York to grow up with.

I was dumbfounded that they didn’t win it all.

But eight year olds are dumbfounded easily. Looking back on that team 25 years later, it is now so clear. They also had glaring flaws. Well, not so much glaring. More like eye searing light you’d see from the sun if you were sitting on the surface of Mercury.

If were you around back then, you know what the first one was: Free Throws.

That team could never close out a game because of their inability to cash in from the charity stripe. If you look back at that season, they lost all their game Big East games by two points or less.

Their free throw shooting was bad. Not just bad, comically bad. Not just comically bad, historically comically bad. They were a Gallagher show from the line, only with basketballs as sledgehammers and the rim serving as a watermelon. Only difference is, I wasn’t laughing (yes, I just admitted to laughing at Gallagher, he’s the voice of a generation).

That team also lacked real depth. Earl Duncan was OK, but honestly, he wouldn’t even be able to make the roster of this year’s team. For years, there was always talk about Boehiem not using his bench. There was a reason for that. He didn’t have one. I’ve now turned from, “How did that team not win a title?” to “How did that team win the Big East?”

So, where does this reflection leave me for this season?

It made me accept the truth. Every team has flaws. What makes a team a championship team is being able to overcome those shortcomings for six games in a row. What’s great about this team is the flaws aren’t really that bad in comparison to the teams of the past.

So, I’m back on the bandwagon. Until Saturday.

Then, who knows?

Rationality can only last so long.