“Just win, baby!” – Al Davis, SU Class of 1952
With a record of 29 wins and just one blemish, the Syracuse Orange basketball team has done plenty of “just winning.” They’ve done it in a variety of ways: the blowout, the big-lead-early-and-hold-on kinda way, the trail-early-and-comeback kinda way, the neck-and-neck battle kinda way, and even the overtime variety. When it comes to winning, there’s been more than one way for Syracuse to peel an orange.
Those victories have not been all that pretty lately. A one-point escape at Louisville. They beat a Rutgers team after trailing for a good chunk of the first half. Those Bulls from South Florida were not distracted by the platinum and neon orange uniforms of Syracuse on Wednesday, racing out to a 13-point lead before Syracuse put together a 26-0 run to win by six in the end. Then, the Orange led by 17 at UConn in the second half Saturday, but were tied with less than a minute to go before getting some situations to go their way (Fab Melo’s tip-in, a no-call on C.J. Fair’s defense in the final possession) to squeak by with a two-point win.
But, no matter the ingredients, Jim Boeheim has pulled the finished product out of the oven and it’s been a victory. That end result is something that has not always been a given, let alone probable in seasons past.
How many times have we watched Syracuse gift wrap a game for somebody? It seemed like the Orange had a quota to fill, where once or twice a season they would just lay an egg. Maybe they let a lesser opponent just out-hustle them and steal a win. It seems like one or two guys you have never heard of gets hot from the outside and shoots Syracuse out of the zone, goes for a career-high, and leaves everybody saying, “who was that that just did that to our team?” Or, how many times have we seen Syracuse play a great first half, get complacent, and a good team that didn’t show up in the first half stomps on Syracuse in the second half and rips Syracuse’s heart out (does that Pittsburgh game in the Dome a couple years back ring a bell?).
We expect those games. We prepare our minds for them. We resign ourselves to the fact that they’re going to happen at some point.
I had been out of town earlier this week and had plans Saturday night. So, I had both the South Florida and UConn games on my DVR and watched them both Sunday. Before I watched them, I had talked to my dad on the phone and his reaction to both games was, “both games are terrible.”
My father, the eternal pessimist when it comes to the Orange, had me, the realist with a pessimistic tint, primed for disappointment. But, after watching the games, I came away still wondering what all my
dad’s doom and gloom was about.
Sure, they looked flat in the beginning against the Bulls. Sure, they seemed to lack some focus against the Huskies. But, look at what they’ve done accomplished against their recent opponents:
- Syracuse beat Louisville for the first time in the last eight tries.
- The Orange won at the RAC, a place where two Top 10 teams (Florida and UConn) had gone to pasture earlier in the season
- They ran off a 26-0 run against South Florida…I don’t care who the opponent is, to score 26 unanswered is impressive.
- And here’s the collection of feats from the UConn game: won the Big East title for the second time in three years, completed a season sweep of the Huskies, set a school record with 29 regular season wins, and throw in their first ever win at Gampel Pavilion.
There are positives to take from every game and, for a change, I’m gonna look at the brighter side of life in these close finishes for the Orange. To me, this looks to be a sign of maturity, a good blend of veterans and youthful energy. When Syracuse needs a play, Scoop Jardine gets the ball in his hands and creates. Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche, and Dion Waiters can all take (and make) the last shot. The improvement of Melo allows for them to get a defensive stop inside if they need it.
Come March, it’s not about winning pretty. It’s about winning. Period. I’ll take six ugly wins in the tournament over four pretty wins and a loss any day. What we may be seeing here is that Syracuse has what it takes to gut out victories, even when they’re not having their best day. And, in the past where Syracuse had PLAYERS that had that fortitude, it now seems like they may have a TEAM that collectively has that attitude.
To borrow a phrase from another football personality: “You are what your record says you are.” – Bill Parcells
29-1. That’s Syracuse’s record.
To me, that shows they are P-D-G… Pretty. Darn. Good.