Orange Watch: Talk of Syracuse basketball missing NCAA Tournament premature

Boeheim's team will improve plenty between now and March
Boeheim’s team will improve plenty between now and March

Item: Incredulously, we saw the many tweets from media and fans following Syracuse’s first loss of the season against California last Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden, and shook our head reading and questioning many of the 140 character definitive proclamations that the Orange will be NIT-bound come tournament time. After (at that point) three games?

There are some features of Twitter to like, and others to dislike, in examining one of the most dynamic tools that has changed the way we communicate 15 years into this century, and one element to loathe is when it provides too easy a space to write out that short burst of instant thought, sometimes more of a written knee jerk reaction, to something many of us are either watching, a trending current event, or what have you, and then hitting the Tweet button to send it out into that universe.

In the case of the initial post-game reaction following the Orange’s first loss to the Golden Bears in the fourth meeting between the schools over the last six seasons, last week’s 73-59 pasting in the semifinal round of the 2K Classic in front of the usual rabid crowd of ‘Cuse alumni and fans at the Garden, it was a Twitter forecast of gloom and doom, many predicting the first non-NCAA season since 2008 calling it a (rare) rebuilding year for a program usually fixated on playing over multiple weekends of March Madness.

“As a team (almost) everybody’s in a new position,” Jim Boeheim said in describing the steep learning curve for the current seven-eight player rotation after SU rallied less than 24 hours from the Cal loss to hold off Iowa, picked preseason to finish 7th in the 14 team Big Ten, by three points in the 2K Classic third-place game.

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“It was good in a way coming here (to New York) because we certainly learned what we have to do to get better and (in the Iowa win) we did some things better, and that’s a good thing,” Boeheim continued. “We just need time…I hope it’s not too much time, but we need time to get better. I think we can do that (get better), but there’s a lot of work to be done in the next few weeks for sure.”

As has been the case with their Orange football counterpart, a team which sports a respectable defense that simply has been on the field too many minutes in a 3-8 season so far, and which hasn’t been complimented by nearly enough offensive production during an unusual year in which four quarterbacks have been forced into action, the basketball team is playing and still learning its usual frenetic zone D, while searching for enough go-to options to get the ball in the basket and try to exceed last season’s 20 year nadir of averaging 68 points-per-game (SU averaged 62.5 ppg in New York).

“I thought we finally got our offense going (vs. Iowa),” Boeheim said of his 3-1 team. “We were able to get different guys in position to score, and really played the best offense we’ve played (after four games). (But) we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next month in this non-conference part of our schedule, a lot of work to do.”

Which is exactly what the next nine games allows for, to get better against a mix of opponents from nationally-ranked to those with RPIs in the low hundreds, along with the potential of adding DaJuan Coleman’s big body into the frontcourt mix before the ACC opener Jan. 3 at Virginia Tech.

“Everything is a learning process in all of these (early) games,” freshman catalyst Kaleb Joseph said after his first swing through the fabled Garden produced 20 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, eight turnovers, and two steals averaging 34 minutes. “Moving forward, I know what he (coach Boeheim) wants from me in these tight games. This was definitely huge experience, the tight situation, everybody had to rally together. Moving forward it is going to help me a lot.”

And perhaps also help keep some in the media and other doubters in the Twitter world (and elsewhere) at bay as the season plays out, continuing this evening against 2-2 Loyola (Md.) in the Dome (7:00 p.m. ET / ACCRSN).

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.