To say that Syracuse's season ended on a disappointing note would not be quite right. The words bitter, expected, upsetting or even numb would not quite accurately describe the exact feeling felt when the Golden Eagles ran off the court victorious.
The reality is in true tournament fashion, Syracuse was eliminated by a team that was able to capitalize on their weaknesses and, ultimately, their lack of experience led to the inability to make the necessary adjustments or big plays.
For the Orange, this season has been a learning experience of the best possible five-man combination. Against Marquette, this was painfully apparent.
Fab Melo struggled and was in foul trouble early, taking him out of the rotation and leaving Syracuse in a difficult position as Marquette was having success drawing fouls on which ever forewords Boeheim put on the floor. Marquette was also able to do what teams that beat Syracuse must do to win: move the ball inside-out throughout the 2-3 zone.
Marquette was able to force the ball low and draw fouls or pass the ball back outside for open jump shots which spread the zone, allowing for Marquette to push the temp of the game in both transition and half-court offense.
However, good teams in the tournament can handle situations like this by making adjustments. To make these kind of adjustments, a team needs a good/great coach and experienced players. Syracuse has half of this equation. In the second half, Syracuse showed life and fought hard, but was never able to mitigate or fully counter what Marquette was doing.
How far will Syracuse go next season?
Continuing with this inexperience, as shown all year, players like Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine were never able to step up when the situation called for it. Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph both struggled due to Marquette's defensive game plan, which forced Scoop and B-Triche to at least make consistent plays to force a defensive switch. Both had moments, but turned the ball over far too much.
As for Scoop, he made bad shot making decisions at the end of the first half to allow for a Marquette basket that created a three-point lead and the early miss that effectively ended the game for Syracuse. Neither player was ready for this situation or, if they were ready, were unable to follow through.
Regardless, the outlook for next season is already very positive.
Losing only Jackson will mean that Triche, Jardine, Joseph, and Moussa-Keita all can continue their growth and will leave only one vacancy at forward that can be filled by C.J. Fair, who was the one bright spot in the Marquette game.
Fab Melo will have a huge chip on his shoulder after a season where "lack-luster" may be too gentle of a word to use. Boeheim has already announced his time is coming to an end, and his legacy at Syracuse leaves many hoping for a glorious finale cutting down the nets in April.
The Orange were just not quite ready for success this year. Next year, players will be wiser and ready to handle their "unfinished business."