If you’re still basking in the glow of an unexpected Final Four twelve days after North Carolina ended Syracuse’s run, savor away. This past season certainly had its share of frustrations; losing at Georgetown, a 4-5 record during Jim Boeheim’s suspension, dropping four straight to open league play, closing the regular season with 5-of-6 losses, and then sweating out Selection Sunday. The Orange did win the Battle 4 Atlantis beating old rival UConn and Texas A&M in the process. And there aren’t many more satisfying places to win than at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coach K himself couldn’t stop commenting on how “amazing” Syracuse’s win was.
As the season progressed, fans continued to ponder one question; what was this team exactly? Five games in March provided a glimpse.
Syracuse’s fifth-year senior was the main cog in the engine the entire season. The list of what Gbinije didn’t do for his team is much faster to write than compiling every area he contributed to the team’s success. Seven boards against Dayton, a team-high 23 points versus Middle Tennessee, twenty points including the go-ahead bucket in the win against Gonzaga, and a team-high six assists against Virginia’s suffocating defense. Syracuse’s leading scorer was a marked man every game all while handling the responsibilities of playing point guard. Gbinije’s fingerprints are all over the Orange’s Final Four run.
Stuck in an awful shooting slump as the regular season came to a close, Syracuse’s other fifth-year senior found success driving to the basket time and again. Cooney also caught fire from deep connecting on 11-of-23 shots; a sizzling 48-percent. And though SU was outmanned against Carolina, Cooney saved his best for last with a team-high 22 points.
The junior from New Jersey had some big rebounding efforts in the regular season including a high of 20 boards in the win at Duke. Roberson left his mark against the Blue Devils in other ways that game as well. Under the bright lights of the NCAAs, he was a one-man gang on the backboards for the Orange grabbing 56 rebounds in five tournament games highlighted by an 18-board effort against Dayton in the first round.
The most heralded of SU’s freshmen, Syracuse doesn’t make the last weekend of the tournament without Richardson eviscerating Malcolm Brogden – considered the ACC’s best defender – and the Virginia Cavaliers by scoring 21 of his 23 points as the Orange erased a 16-point second half deficit. He followed that up with 17 points in the loss to the Tar Heels.
Lydon played just as big of a role in his freshman campaign as Richardson but in different ways. Much of his defensive assignment involved anchoring the center of the 2-3 zone; a space more suited to DaJuan Coleman given his size. Despite lacking the size and strength to battle against bigger players, it was Lydon’s ability to block shots that continued to amaze. He swatted 20 of them in five games. While not quite Hak-esque, no block was bigger than his game-saver against Josh Perkins in the waning seconds of the Orange’s win over the Zags.
October practice was the start of Coleman’s long road back from a knee injury that cost him almost two full seasons. While not depended on for scoring or to be the team’s top rebounder, Coleman did average 5.0 RPG in the tournament all while battling against formidable front lines in Gonzaga, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Though Howard only averaged 10 MPG in the tournament, his ability to spell Gbinije at the point and allowing him to slide over to his more natural forward position was crucial.
Mark Twain penned the phrase “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”
With this year now officially an entry in the history books, the Syracuse Orange finally answered that season-long question. They’re fighters.