Quick—take a look at this description of the SU basketball team I wrote: “This squad is not as elite (as year’s past), but we’ve seen it can play elite. Or, it can play like a team that has no offensive control, no shot-making ability, and no free-throw making ability.”
No, I am not referencing this year’s squad. I wrote that about last year’s team circa March 2013, right before the NCAA Tournament. Then SU went to the Final Four.
Now, now, I’m not saying this year’s team, with similar offensive problems, will ride that 2-3 zone into the Final Four again. That most likely will not happen. However, there is hope that this team can recover from its recent slide to make a tourney run.
But that winning mindset must be there.
Suddenly this team went from being a number one seed to a “I hope Syracuse makes it to the second weekend” team. As referenced above, last year’s team flubbed at the end of the regular season too. But last year’s team had a nice Big East tourney run, as well as Michael Carter-Williams. This year’s team has 25-0.
Just maybe that’s a good place to start. We have, after all, come to expect only the best from recent SU squads.
Former Syracuse guard Brandon Triche is the winningest player in SU basketball history. Triche was on the team from the 2009-2010 season through the 2012-2013 season. Those four years coincided with my four years there. Two of those seasons included number one rankings and a No. 1 seed, and one included a Final Four. So naturally, I’m used to SU winning. I don’t take the wins for granted. Trust me, I’m happy to not have had to deal with the words “bubble” when it comes to an SU team.
In fact, save for my tepid expectations for last year’s and this year’s squad, I’ve always exhibited a Final Four or bust mindset.
Just last month, this year’s team was continuing that winning trend. As it raced out to a program record 25-0 start, flaws were masked and praises were sung. Pundits were on that SU bandwagon. And then, as the losses began to happen to end the season, that confidence drifted.
Tyler Ennis went from fantastic freshman point guard to a still pretty good frosh point. Jerami Grant went from being explosive to being ridded by back injuries. Trevor Cooney went from 3-point shooting wizard to losing his shooting stroke. C.J. Fair went from consistent scorer to suddenly being unable to hit shots. Depth issues persisted.
Yet this team carries on. And if everyone can find their 25-0 selves, flaws will once again be masked. Because we remember the MCW who led his team to the Final Four with amazing showings against Marquette and Indiana. Not the MCW who couldn’t beat Michigan. That
unbeatable mentality must return.
It’s hard to live up to expectations at a program like Syracuse. While we expect titles, we should still be thankful for last year’s amazing Final Four run.
And though it seems like just yesterday, it’s time to turn up the heat once more.
Get past that second weekend, and anything can happen. Just have to get there first. One game at a time.