Orange Watch: Long-standing winning streak in jeopardy for Syracuse basketball

Marek Dolezaj Va Tech
Jan 8, 2020: Syracuse Orange forward Marek Dolezaj (21) dribbles down court against the Virginia Tech Hokies during a 67-63 loss at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Item: It is certainly the literal meaning of the term “winning program.” Syracuse basketball has been a consistent winner since a .500 finish in 1969-70, the last 50 years. Each year, a winning season adding to the current NCAA Div. I record, and the source of immense pride in Orange Nation for the fifth winningest program of all-time. Following Tuesday’s loss to Virginia Tech that dropped SU to 8-7, 1-3, with 16 regular season games left to be played, that long run dating back to Roy Danforth’s tenure (1968-1976) and Jim Boeheim’s entire career is hanging precipitously close to the edge of the basketball cliff.

When was the last time Jim Boeheim played only six players in a game as he did in the tough-to-swallow 67-63 defeat to the Hokies?

We can’t remember it happening in 44-seasons, although it probably has occurred. Seven players getting minutes, yes, but never just six.

What does that say about where Syracuse basketball is in 2020, even understanding that every team goes through injuries that reduce the number of available scholarship players?

It’s not only hard to remain elite if top recurring choices decide to head elsewhere than the Dome, but even to stay in the upper half of the ACC. The ‘Cuse is 61-53 since joining the league in 2013-14, with a 2-5 mark in the ACC Tournament.

» Related: Syracuse basketball drops second straight ACC home game

“Tough league, people are good,” Boeheim said while explaining his team’s offensive deficiencies in the second half that doomed the Orange Tuesday night against Va. Tech. “We’ve had two opportunities (Notre Dame and Tech) to win games, and we couldn’t get it done.”

Now in an interesting schedule twist, SU finishes up the road portion with three of its four rotating partners this year in three of the next five games against Virginia first on Saturday afternoon (4:00 p.m. ET / ESPN), then Virginia Tech and Notre Dame again in quick turnarounds. The other two games are against annual home/away partners Boston College and Pittsburgh.

The loss to Virginia Tech was the third straight home conference loss for Syracuse, something that has not happened since the 1996-97 season (B.C., N.D., Villanova), a year the Orange finished 19-13 with a brutal first-round home NIT loss to Florida State. That season, along with 1981-82 which ended with a 16-13 record and a second-round home NIT loss to Bradley, are the two worst seasons record-wise during the 50- year winning streak.

With two straight losses and the trip to Virginia next, it’s worth remembering that no Syracuse team under Boeheim has ever lost five straight games. Four times previously there has been a four-game losing streak, the last occurring in 2011, but each season the Orange came up with a victory when it was most needed.

“Right now, we’re not just good enough (to win consistently),” Boeheim said in summarizing the exact feelings of a frustrated fan base. “We’ve got to work hard, I’ve got to do a better job, we’ve all got to do a better job.”

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 684 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.