Judging success or failure, not just in sports but in any part of life, is a remarkably difficult thing to accomplish.
So many things have to be factored in, so many things considered, that it sometimes seems impossible.
It feels like that may have never been more true when trying to figure out if this previous season of basketball for the Syracuse Orange was indeed a success or a failure.
When trying to determine that judgment with this team, so many questions come to mind.
Questions such as:
Do you judge this season based on a whole?
Do you judge it based on just one, albeit disastrous, game?
Or do you judge it based on expectations, and whether or not those expectations were met and/or exceeded?
What the consensus seems to be amongst Syracuse fans is that the end of the season was a huge disappointment.
But does that totally equate to making an accurate judgment of success or failure?
Let’s take a look at the aspects that will undoubtedly be the primary reasons on which people will judge this previous season.
The Regular Season
Prior to the start of this season, the Orange was expected to be a middle-of-the-pack Big East team.
Sure, the ‘Cuse would most likely make the NCAA tournament, but with the substantial loss of talent from last year’s team, even a second round loss didn’t seem too far-fetched.
This was all evidenced not only by a near universal pick for the Orange right around 6th or 5th place in the Big East, but also by the lack of a preseason ranking.
However, those expectations and predictions went down the drain fast when The Orange dominated two legitimate programs in the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden back in early November.
Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins had their coming out parties and the team played dominant basketball.
Suddenly, the Orange was expected to be very competitive in the Big East and was now a team to be reckoned with.
After it breezed through the out of conference schedule in dominant form, and after a hot start to the Big East conference season, this team was now expected to contend for the Big East title.
And it more than contended, as the Orange dominated when it had to, played near-perfect team basketball several times throughout the season and became one of the most fun Syracuse teams to ever watch.
Not to mention Syracuse received its first No. 1 ranking in ages.
After a pre-season of lackluster predictions and expectations, suddenly at the end of the season this was a team many predicted to be final four caliber.
It was one of the best coaching jobs ever accomplished by Jim Boeheim.
Anything less than a final four would be a disappointment. The expectations had been raised that much during the regular reason.
It goes without saying that a team has to be special to go from a possible sweet sixteen team to a nothing less than a final four team.
So, based on the regular season, and how unexpected and spectacular it was, this season surely would have to be a success.
It would have to take something drastic, something so ugly, and horrendous in the NCAA tournament to derail that feeling of success.
Something that bad surely couldn’t happen to a team that had been so good all season long, right?
The Butler Game
Those three words above will forever be burned into Syracuse fan’s heads as taboo—Don’t think about it, don’t speak about it, and don’t even look at the box score.
Butler has now taken its rightful place, in Syracuse fan’s minds, with teams such as Vermont, Richmond, and even Indiana (No, Lemoyne does not count).
The game was just that awful.
Everything that had made this team so great all year long had suddenly disappeared.
Rick Jackson, who had been improving all year long, and had even been dominating in some games, played possibly the worst game of his entire life.
His turnovers were atrocious and he looked like a scared child out there.
It’s a good thing he had someone as athletic as Wes Johnson to throw those awful lob passes too, because if it had been anyone else but Wes, those passes are either sailing out of bounds or into a Butler player’s hands—which they did sometimes managed to do anyway.
And what happened to the great coaching that had epitomized this team all year?
Boeheim seemed to refuse to want to push the tempo and didn’t implement his full-court press until it was much too late.
And why, WHY, in the world did he choose to primarily put Wes Johnson in the post-up position on offense when everybody knows that is not his best game?
Why was Wes then ignored for the last five or so minutes in the game when The Orange desperately needed to get the ball into its best player’s hands on each and every possession?
Why did Scoop Jardine become the go-to guy at the end of the game?
And where was the team effort in general?
The Orange looked like the mid-major out there against Butler.
It looked Scared, it looked lost, and it was playing not to lose. In the NCAA tournament, you have got to play to win.
And when you’re a team as good and dominant as Syracuse had been all year, you’ve got to dominate a team like Butler.
Butler did not play that well at all.
It just managed to play a little less awful than Syracuse played.
All that culminated into one of, if not the, most frustrating and disappointing losses in all of Syracuse basketball history.
Based on this game, and the expectations coming into it, and the fact that (even with Arinze Onuaku) Syracuse was the better team, than this season had to be a failure right?
After all, how can a successful season end with such a miserable feeling?
This wasn’t a loss in the national championship game to a powerhouse program.
This was a loss to good mid-major program that didn’t even play that well against Syracuse.
This was a crushing loss in which The Orange truly beat itself.
And when you beat yourself, that is the ultimate failure in sports and in life.
Jim Boeheim VS. Expectations
For as great a coach as he is, and for all the wonderful things he’s done for the Syracuse basketball team and NY community, there’s still one aspect of his coaching that haunts Boeheim like a ubiquitous specter:
When his teams aren’t expected to do much or are predicted low in the standings, those are the teams that historically have made the most noise (1996 final four team; 2003 national championship team).
However, his teams that are expected to be good and make deep runs in the NCAA tournament almost always disappoint in crushing fashion (The first round loss to Vermont in 2005; the first No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 14 seed).
Even with as crazy as a season this past one was, it’s even crazier think that it served as a microcosm for both those theories of Boeheim and his team’s expectations.
This year’s team was not expected to be very good, yet they came out of nowhere and played great, sometimes dominant basketball, to win the Big East conference by two games and secure its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in a very long time.
By the time the NCAA tournament came along, this team was expected to be one of the major players in Indianapolis in the Final Four, yet it lost in stunningly atrocious fashion by playing, easily, its worst basketball of the season against a lesser opponent.
Not only that, but Boeheim may have been out-coached by a coach half his age, and his team looked completely lost for much of the game.
It’s unfortunate for Boeheim, because this just adds more fuel to a fire that was already raging.
Maybe it’s just coincidence, or perhaps it really is something more cosmic.
This may be something Boeheim can never shake, unless he finally takes a highly-predicted team to the Promised Land and doesn’t lose in bad form.
Success Or Failure?
So what exactly does all this culminate to?
It seems almost impossible to be able to put a concrete failure or success stamp on this past season.
The facts are all there, in that this was the best regular season in Syracuse basketball history, evidenced by two No. 1 rankings and a Big East title.
But the facts also show that the season ended in a game in which the team fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
So I ask you, will this team be remembered as a success or a failure? And how exactly do you judge it?
I ask, because I just can’t come up with a concrete answer.
All I know is that Syracuse Orange Basketball is done until November.
And in recent Syracuse Orange Basketball history, it’s never felt so empty or disappointing as it does now.