Be honest. Did you really expect Boeheim’s bunch to be 18-1 and the No. 3 team in the country? How long did you expect Marrone to stick around? While we’re talking surprises. It shouldn’t be one that Desko’s squad isn’t even picked to win the BIG EAST this year.
Ah, winter in Syracuse. The temperature has dropped and the snow is piling up, but Orange athletics have been heating up, even after Orange football wrapped its 2012 campaign. Here’s what’s on the mind:
1. The win at Louisville this past Saturday was downright impressive. I can’t remember watching a better basketball game. Back and forth, slim leads and a compelling finish. That’s also why the win at home against Cincinnati less than 48 hours later was notable.
2. Who can we thank in large part for these victories? Michael Carter-Williams, of course. He had about the best final 30 seconds possible against Louisville and then a game-tying three in the last 90 seconds against Cincinnati. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I thought MCW would be the next early departure for the NBA. I said, “No way. He’s not ready. He makes too many mistakes, and he doesn’t have a shot.” If he keeps up this play, that might change. Sure, his head-scratching turnovers, missed free throws and questionable decisions remain frustrating, but he’s turned into the biggest revelation of the season.
3. And then there’s James Southerland. Another season, another academic problem? Fab Melo 2.0? No one outside the Syracuse program and the NCAA knows much of anything. The good news is the team has responded well and may even be playing better without him. But can’t we get beyond these infractions and suspensions?
4. So, Carmelo is getting his jersey retired when the team hosts Georgetown Feb 23. Arguably, no one in the program’s history has had a bigger impact in such a short period of time. There’s no doubt he deserves the honor, but he’s a different case than the names already hanging from the rafters: Dave Bing, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Gabor, Vic Hanson, Billy Owens, Wilmeth Sadat-Singh, Rony Seikaly and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington.
5. Now onto football. Doug Marrone came from the NFL. He brought the program back to respectability. The money and allure of the NFL is an easy draw. There are a few college programs that can keep its coaches away from that appeal, and Syracuse isn’t one of them.
6. Scott Shafer should be able to keep the program moving in the right direction, but it will continue to be a long slog. Until this team can attract blue chip recruits, it won’t be able to compete at the top level on a consistent basis. And in this era of college football, it’s not like the Orange will ever play for a national title.
7. Some extended continuity at the helm would be welcome, however. Greg Robinson and Marrone lead the way for four years apiece. Paul Pasqualoni: 14. Dick MacPherson: 10. If Shafer is able to string together some quality years, I hope Daryl Gross will be able to keep him around. It might even help attract some of those top recruits.
8. Welcome to the 2013 men’s lacrosse season. This Saturday, we’ll see the team in action for the first time with scrimmages against Hofstra and Holy Cross. The first regular season game is just weeks away on Feb. 17 against Albany. Orange fans will be treated to home games against Virginia (March 1), Johns Hopkins (March 16) and Cornell (April 10). That’s great news for the team and the fans.
9. As mentioned at the top, Syracuse was picked to finish second in the conference this year. Who’s it looking up to? Notre Dame, which finished last season 13-3 (6-0) and lost to eventual champion Loyola in the national semifinals. The team has the best goalie in the country, junior John Kemp (BIG EAST preseason co-defensive player of the year), who lead the country last year in goals-against average (6.27) and save percentage (.637). The Orange might want to get used to being somewhat of an afterthought in preseason rankings. The ACC will be a who’s who of the best college lacrosse programs.
10. I’ll have more on the Orange’s 2013 campaign soon, but it may be another “down” year. The team has questions marks on attack beyond last year’s leading scorer Derek Maltz, but it returns five of its six top midfielders and nearly its entire defense, including BIG EAST preseason co-defensive player of the year Brian Megill. The schedule is as tough as usual, but the eight home games and only four true road games will help. (Two additional games are neutral site matchups.)