What a difference a year makes. Last year, Syracuse and its fans were celebrating their inclusion into the NCAA tournament as a bubble team. This year? NIT.
Yes, I am a snob who doesn’t believe much in the NIT. Especially because I’ve been spoiled as a fan of the Orange. It has to be tough for players to get motivated for a postseason tournament that doesn’t mean all that much.
So I’ve decided to take a look back at last year. It’s not living in the past. Rather, it’s looking for inspiration for the future.
March 2016. A whole different world. Cuse was prepping for what would be an eventual Final Four run. That team had a high ceiling, and boy did it reach it. It exemplified the true meaning of “just get in the tournament.” Because once you’re in, you have a shot. And SU took that and ran with it.
What that team had, which is crucial to tourney success, is senior leadership. It had Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije.
Look back at recent championship teams. The one thing they had in common? A senior leader. Yes, superstar freshmen are important, but you need experience, too. Last year, it was Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono. In 2015, Duke’s Quinn Cook. In 2014, UConn’s Shabazz Napier. 2013 was Louisville’s Peyton Siva. In 2012, Kentucky’s Darius Miller. All guards, too.
That’s what Syracuse didn’t have this year. Yes, it had a transfer guard in fifth-year player John Gillon. And they had Andrew White. But you need continuity at one program, and it takes more than one season to achieve that.
That’s what SU had in Cooney and Gbinije.
In the tournament, every little thing counts. One error can be the difference between winning and losing. The margin is so slim. Yet Cuse somehow made it, probably about as far as it could go. For the second time in four seasons, a team that wasn’t one of SU’s best in recent memory made a Final Four run.
And Cuse fans are thankful for that. And for me, well, that’s what makes this year’s exclusion from the tourney sting just a little bit less.
Hey, at least we don’t have to stress out of our minds for each tournament game. Though there is something fun in that.
I guessss I’ll look forward to an NIT run. At least let the seniors have fun and play a few more games.