Forget The Academy, This Is the Syracuse Orange Awards Season
College Basketball gyms all across America are beginning to quiet down. The Mid-Major conference tournaments, where the champion is usually crowned at the No. 1 seeds home court, are almost the only home venues still hosting its college basketball team.
No more camping outside of historic venues for the students until next December. No more desperately searching out tickets for a sold-out game on a cold Saturday night. All this can only mean one thing: The College Basketball regular season has wrapped up. Every single game left will now bear the moniker of “tournament game” whether it is conference, NCAA, NIT or any one of those other “relevant” postseason competitions.
It’s the best time of the year for the NCAA, the athletes involved, and the fans. Throw Vegas in there too, because no doubt, it makes a ton of money off all the gambling. It’s heaven on Earth for every one of us who bleeds college basketball, and it’s always over way too fast. Even more exciting for fans, is being a fan of a team that is believed to be a serious contender for some serious net-cutting at the end of the NCAA tournament.
This year, fans of the Syracuse Orange get to enjoy that privilege, nail-biting as it may be. They put behind them a fantastic regular season, one of the best ever for Syracuse, and focus on the looming tournaments. For a team to be as good as the Orange was this year, it has to function as a whole. In other words, every major component of this team had to contribute, and they did all year long.
The Academy awards wrapped up its ceremony last night, with the deserving best picture taking home the gold. However, another important awards season is also upon us: College Basketball's. The all-conference teams have started to roll in, and soon the conference players of the year will be announced. Soon after, the big-time awards will be revealed: National player of the year and the All-American team.
With all of America becoming wrapped up in some sort of awards in one way or another, I thought it'd be fun to look at an awards ceremony that regards only the Syracuse Orange. In this slideshow, we'll award the great—and not so great—moments and players from this past regular season of Syracuse Orange Basketball.
Most Important Player: Andy Rautins
Most Important player, Most Valuable Player, however way you want to phrase it, there’s no debate that Andy Rautins fulfilled that duty.
It was a hot debate for some time as to who was the Orange’s best overall player. That honor most likely goes to Wes Johnson, who is without a doubt the most physically gifted player The Orange have.
However, even when Wes was injured, The Orange still found a way to win.
When Andy struggles, the team struggles. That right there is a clear sign of his importance and value.
What Andy brings to the table is something no other player can replicate. He’s a cold-blooded, deadly accurate three-point shooter, but also a multi-talented ball handler with pin-point passing abilities.
His length and activity at the top of the zone is one of the main reasons that the ‘Cuse boasts such impressive defensive numbers this year.
He’s arguably the smartest player on a team full of bright players and he has shown the most growth, freshman to senior, on the team.
The best part about Rautins though, as has been noted all season by coach and player alike, is his unquestioned leadership.You see it when you watch the game; you see it in the press conferences and locker room videos. These players look up to Rautins, and he gladly accepts that responsibility.
Every great team needs a great leader and Andy has ubiquitously done that all season.
What a player he’s grown into. If someone had told me when he was a freshman, that he’d be doing all these great things at this point in his career, I may have laughed in the face of that person.
He deserves better than second team All Big East. And if it were up to me, he’d be right there along with Scottie Reynolds as a potential player of the year in the conference.
Regardless, he’s been a special player all year for a variety of reasons and there’s no question The Orange would be nowhere near as good as it is now without all the aspects he brings to each and every game.
Best Overall Player: Wesley Johnson
Okay, maybe I threw this in to get Wes’s name out there, but I think it’s important because he deserves mention alone.
He came out of Iowa State, amidst of a tad bit of controversy (is there ever a non-controversial transfer?) with his ex-coach, as a relative unknown.
His three-point shooting wasn’t that great and he wasn’t getting a lot of quality minutes. Somewhere between that time and this year, though, he exploded into the player he is now.
Besides his raw talent alone, his length and athleticism make him perfect for the swingman position in the 2-3 zone. He covers a lot of ground very quick, can recover fast to block a shot and is a prolific rebounder.
He doesn’t bring all the things Rautins brings to the table, but his raw talent, athleticism, and versatility make him, by all accounts of the definition, the best overall basketball player on this team.
Most Improved Player: Scoop Jardine
Boy, this was a tough one.
With a team that has improved overall so much this season, it’s such a hard task to focus on one specific player and announce them as most improved. It’d be a lot easier to just anoint the whole team as most improved. But that’s too easy and not fun enough.
I may be going against the popular grain with this pick, but I’m going to choose Scoop Jardine as the most improved player.
Already screaming obscenities at me through your computer for not choosing Kris Joseph? Understandable, as Joseph’s improvement has been remarkable also.
I’m choosing Scoop because I believe he had a lot more pressure on him to improve. We all knew coming into this season how good the frontline of Rick Jackson, Onuaku, and Johnson could be. Not a whole lot was expected out of Joseph, and not to undermine him at all, but that almost makes it easier to improve. When you’re under the radar, it’s easier to improve your game because there are not so many expectations placed upon you.
Jardine knew coming into this season that he was absolutely going to need to be a quality back-up to freshman point guard Brandon Triche. There was a lot of pressure on him to improve his game immensely, and coming off a season where he didn’t play at all due to injury, that pressure inflates a lot.
However, Scoop took it in stride. He practiced hard, obviously learned a lot from former Orange great Jonny Flynn, and made himself into what many, including his coach, deem as a sixth starter. He’s a little out of control sometimes, but has proven to be a great spark for this team when needed.
Joseph has been great too, there’s no doubt. His improvement probably even matches Scoops in terms of overall game-play improvement. I give this award to Scoop primarily on the grounds of improving in an intensely pressurized situation, something a lot of people attempt and fail at.
Most Surprising Player: Kris Joseph
Here’s where Kris can get the recognition he deserves.I don’t think anybody really expected the amount of improvement out of Joseph that he has shown this season, and going along with expectations, this makes him the most surprising player on this team.
He’s gone from bench player to playing starters minutes in just a season’s time. He’s even appearing on a lot of draft boards, something his stock should improve in greatly during next season and beyond.
The best thing to see about Joseph this season is how his game has improved before our very eyes. His drives to the basket have become more fearless and confident (and electrifying) all season long. Even his long range jumper is slowly but surely improving, and has been all season. What a treat it is to have as good a player as Joseph has been be as much of a surprise as he has been this season.
Toss up these past two categories between Scoop and Kris all you want, but for the reasons above, I believe they fit their respective categories perfectly.
Best Game Of The Season: Georgetown At the Carrier Dome
For a team that played a lot of great basketball all season, it’s tough to pinpoint just one game that could qualify as the best. But, in terms of quality basketball played, I’m going to go with the Georgetown game at The Carrier Dome, in which The Orange won by a commanding 17 points.
The funny thing is, it really should be been a 30+ point victory. A game where Syracuse gets outscored 14-0 from the opening tip is a tough pick for best game. The game looked like a potential blowout and it appeared The Orange was about to lose its second Carrier Dome game. But the way the 'Cuse responded, and the flawless basketball it played for the rest of that game really showed just how dangerous and good this team is.
And, honestly, how much better can it be to not only comeback from such a huge deficit against a hated rival, but to absolutely dominate them for the majority of the game?
The answer: Not much better.
Ugliest Game Of The Year: At DePaul
For all the great basketball it played this year, The Orange certainly hard its fair share of ugly games. The losses were all pretty nasty to watch, with a lot of self-inflicted wounds by The Orange. However, those losses came against quality opponents, and sometimes even the opponent played pretty decent basketball (Kyle Kuric may never have a game again like he had last Saturday).
The ugliest game had to be the game at DePaul. A game The Orange only won by two points, against a team that would only rack up, count them, one Big East win all season. A lot of times during this game it felt as if DePaul was going to win. The same feeling that crept up in all three actual losses this year.
Even as that potential game-winning three, launched by DePaul’s Will Walker, was sailing through the air, I thought it was cash for sure.
For what would seem like clockwork for Syracuse, it would rack up another “What The (insert expletive)” loss during a regular season. Not to mention Syracuse scored only 59 points and was actually down by four at halftime.
Maybe the prime reason it was the ugliest game is that even though Syracuse pulled out the win, it somehow still felt like a loss. It was a game Syracuse most deservedly should have lost. However, Syracuse is that good of a team this year, that even in an ugly game like this that it should have lost, it still found a way to win.
Worst Moment Of The Year: Wes Johnson's Hard Fall
The two losses at home were bad, yes. Nothing to be celebrated by Orange fans for sure. But, the collective worst moment for The Orange and its fans this year had to be when Wes Johnson took that horrendous, flip-over fall against the Providence Friars in The Dome.
It was such an awkward, awful, and painful looking fall, that if it had been someone without Johnson’s freaky athleticism, we could be talking about a broken neck or serious concussion.
He absolutely willed himself to flip over completely and land on his back, something that had to hurt enough by itself. All the fans held their breath at that moment, and some I’m sure are yet to exhale. It was good to see him get up, but he was wobbly at best and didn’t play many minutes for the rest of that game.
Since that fall, Johnson hasn’t quite been the same. Yes, he had another hand injury since then, but a physically and mentally traumatic fall like the one he took doesn’t just go away overnight. The ramifications could still be being felt now, even perhaps subconsciously by Johnson.
A play like that really brings you back down to earth, especially in Johnson’s case, when millions of guaranteed dollars are only a bad-fall away from disappearing.
In a season full of great moments, and highlight moments by Wes himself, this was the toughest and most cringe-inducing to watch.
Best Moment Of The Year: The Villanova Game
Now, hopefully, there will be a better “best moment” to come, but for the regular season, it’s got to be the Villanova game. Especially for all the fans that were there, this game was incredible. The hype, the atmosphere, the quality basketball played, ESPN’s college gameday invading the dome, a thorough ‘Cuse domination. How much better of a moment can there be?
And not even just the game. But the electricity that hung in the air for the weeks to come in Syracuse.
It seemed as though everyone and their mother was sporting one of those bright orange "Beat 'Nova" shirts. It was all the radio shows could talk about in the weeks leading up to it. Tickets were sold out and shut-out fans had to cough up a ton of money just to buy scalped long-range seats. However, it was well worth for anyone who lives in Syracuse. That month or so leading up to the game, the game itself and the roaring after-parties collectively made it the best moment of the season.
Best Overall Aspect Of The Season?
It’s been a long time since Syracuse has been this relevant, and considered such a good team, so close to tournament time. Even though the 2003 team had a heavy bandwagon following them into the tournament, not many even had them in the final four, let alone the elite eight.
This has been such a fun and exciting ride for all of Syracuse, that without any perspective, it’s really hard to put any punctuation as to what the best part of this regular season has been. Winning at a ratio of almost 10:1 is certainly awesome in and of itself. Shocking the nation, and the pundits, is also always a great feeling.
The best part of this year so far though? Despite my best attempt at suspense, if the picture didn’t give it away (which it most assuredly did) I’m going to go ahead and say Jim Boeheim and the job that man has done this year.
A lot of people argue that he doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a hall of famer, which is a credit great enough by itself. But even with the 2003 championship team, a lot of people call that “Melo’s team.” People say he plays down to his competition and that he doesn’t do well with teams that are expected to be contenders before the season starts (Hello Roy Williams...).
Boeheim, though, is the ultimate coach’s coach. Syracuse is a small market, and is a tough place to get top recruits to come play at. Boeheim takes what he can get and molds his players, somehow, into quality college basketball players. This team is the ultimate emphasis on that point. No big name recruits, no national high school all-stars. Just a bunch of hard working basketball players who actually listened to what their Coach was telling them.
I have a theory that Boeheim has a vision in his head of exactly what the perfect 2-3 zone defense is and what it can do to disrupt other teams. With his coaching this year, there’s no question this year’s version of The Orange really get it. A good zone defense is something that truly is coached full through. Man-to-man defense can sometimes get by on player ability alone. The Zone needs to be learned and executed by every player on the floor, and they need a good coach to be able to instill that knowledge onto them. Boeheim has done that this year, and the zone they’re executing is inspiring.
Boeheim is the coach of the year, both in the Big East and nationally. Anything else is an absolute travesty. It’s nice to see him finally get a lot of the national recognition this year, but any ‘Cuse fan will tell you he’s deserved it all along. This team epitomizes a coach’s team. There’s not enough Talent alone (I.E. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke) to win, these players needed a great coach.
Syracuse is a special team this year because of its special coach. And while the best aspect of this year may be the entire regular season, it would never have been possible without Boeheim calling the shots.