Syracuse Basketball: Next Two Weeks Will Define Program’s Future

    Syracuse basketball must show up large in the next two weeks in order provide a stable outlook for the program's future.

    March 2, 2016

    The first two weeks in March will go a long way in determining the future of Syracuse basketball.

    The final buzzer sounded, and Syracuse walked off the court at North Carolina a 75-70 loser.

    It was the third time in four games the Orange have taken the “L” at the end of the night, the 11th time this season. It was also the eighth ACC loss of the year.

    In a year that is as wide open as any in recent memory, Syracuse is in danger of watching the NCAA Tournament from the couch. Maybe it would be for the best, putting this headache of a year behind it and moving on to brighter days.

    It wasn’t so long ago that Syracuse was a that team everyone was chasing. Back in those heady days—ya know, two years ago—a program stocked with talent that included Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair was nearly unstoppable. The Orange started 25-0, but a lack of depth killed that team’s legs, and it was out of gas by late February.

    Syracuse lost six of its final nine games, and it didn’t get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tourney. It was a surprising fall for a team that had been a Final Four program a year earlier.

    Few could have predicted the downward trend that loomed.

    Last season saw another fade. The Orange started the year with a 14-5 mark and sat at 5-1 in the ACC before hosting Miami in a late-January conference matchup. The Hurricanes shot over ‘Cuse’s vaunted zone defense, the Orange made just 8-of-19 free throws, and the bottom fell out Jim Boeheim’s team.

    That loss triggered a skid that saw the Orange drop eight of their last 13 games, and finish 18-13 overall (9-9 in the ACC). Thanks to some self-imposed penalties following a pile of NCAA violations, Syracuse was skipping the postseason anyway, but the news got worse in March when the NCAA announced Boeheim’s suspension for nine games during the 2015-16 season.

    That meant there would be a guaranteed mid-season distraction for the team regardless of what happened on the court.

    Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament resume this year has been reduced to a question of numbers about what the team did with Boeheim on the sideline and without. The Orange weren’t very good without him; when he returned, they ran off eight wins in their next 10.

    Since beating Boston College on Valentine’s Day, however, Syracuse has fallen into an unfortunate, albeit familiar pattern. They’ve suffered another late-season skid, and double-digit losses to Louisville and Pitt have taken a lot of the steam out of the team.

    Following Saturday’s trip to Florida State, Syracuse will likely have to do some work in the ACC Tournament to avoid sweating on Selection Sunday.
    The bigger question, however, isn’t about this year. It’s about the health of the program going forward.

    Boeheim has already said he will be retiring following the 2017-18 season, with assistant coach Mike Hopkins tabbed as his successor, but that’s about as clear as things get. What comes next? What kind of draw will the program will be for recruits without Boeheim around.

    Guard Tyus Battle is on board for next year, but the five-star prospect clearly has designs on not staying with the Orange for more than a couple of years. Beyond that, following a couple of so-so seasons, there is more than a little concern that Syracuse just won’t be that attractive a stop for the top recruits. After all, Boeheim is the one with the reputation for developing NBA players, not Syracuse’s assistants. While assistants are the ones who do most of the hands-on coaching, recruiting is about perception as much as anything. With the long-tenured coach no longer around belief in the program might take a hit, too.

    This is why the Orange’s loss to UNC was so painful. If ‘Cuse would have won that one, it likely would have earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. A building block for the future. Instead, there is still work to be done, and it must be completed with the hopes that another late-season fade isn’t in full swing.

    The future health of the program could hang in the balance over the next two weeks, and Syracuse can’t afford any more stumbles.

    MORE: Ranking Best Basketball Conferences Heading Into March


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