The Syracuse Orange entered Jim Boeheim’s 45th season as head coach hoping to play a full basketball season amidst the coronavirus pandemic and looking for a return to the NCAA Tournament. Coming off one of the worst defensive performances in the last couple decades under Jim Boeheim and a .500 season in conference play, SU got a smattering of votes in the national preseason polls and were voted to finish a distant sixth place in the ACC by the media.
That team was pretty experienced, returning both starting guards, Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III, as well as frontcourt starters forward Marek Dolezaj and center Bourama Sidibe. Quincy Guerrier was promoted to the starting lineup and Illinois transfer Alan Griffin was the team’s sixth man when the season tipped off.
That lasted for a little over four minutes in SU’s opener, as they lost Sidibe for the season with an injury. Playing with almost no practice time following a COVID shutdown, the shorthanded team rallied to eke out a one-point win over Bryant. They added a couple more wins, then suffered their first loss at Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in their steepest task of the early season before bouncing back with three straight wins.
When the calendar turned to 2021, Syracuse hit their conference slate, dropping three of four games, including a pair to Pittsburgh, the latter a 20-point road loss. The Orange rebounded off the slow streak, closing January with three wins in four games, including rolling #16 Virginia Tech at home, 78-60.
After a bad loss at Clemson, SU rattled off three more wins to get above .500 at 7-5 in ACC play late in February. The squad dropped their last two games in the month, but snapped back with home wins over North Carolina and Clemson to close their schedule at 15-8 overall and 9-7 in conference action.
The Orange defeated N.C. State in their opening game of the ACC Tournament, then dropped a heartbreaker to Virginia on a last-second shot by the Cavaliers. SU’s strong play late in the season helped them get an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament and the team took advantage of the opportunity.
Syracuse opened tournament play with a 78-62 victory over San Diego State, blowing out the Aztecs late in the first half with 18 straight points. Next was a matchup with third-seeded West Virginia and the Orange built a big enough lead to withstand a late Mountaineer rally and claim a spot in the Sweet Sixteen with a 75-72 win.
The Orange would advance no further, as the second-seeded Houston squad ground them down and sent SU packing, 62-46. The loss also ended a blistering streak by Buddy Boeheim, who averaged 25 points a game in the postseason.
While Boeheim ended the season as the team’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, the offense was pretty balanced behind him. Guerrier and Griffin, who was promoted into the starting lineup after Sidibe’s injury, combined for 27 points per game and Dolezaj and Girard each posted 9.8 points per contest. Without Sidibe, the team suffered on both defense and the boards as an undersized unit, but the offense kept the team competitive on most nights.
After the season, Guerrier entered the transfer portal and left the program, landing at Oregon. Reserve forward Robert Braswell also transferred, ending up at Charlotte, while freshmen Woody Newton (Oklahoma State) and Kadary Richmond (Seton Hall) also departed through the portal. Alan Griffin declared for the NBA draft and ended up being drafted into the NBA’s G-League.