Team preview: Syracuse
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
It's too bad they don't make college basketball coaches write those "What I did over summer vacation" essays, because Jim Boeheim's would be pretty interesting.
As part of the USA Basketball family, he had a chance to assist Mike Krzyzewski during the World Championships and the long run-up. It was a 35-day ordeal that ended in a disappointing bronze-medal showing precipitated by a semifinal loss to Greece. It may not have ranked down there with the Olympic loss to Puerto Rico in 2004, but it was pretty bad. Even if the Greeks won the '05 European championship, that didn't matter too much to the American basketball world. The U.S. finished third, just as it had in Athens. What followed was the expected indictment of NBA basketball, Coach K, the American culture of the individual and capitalism in general.
As an assistant, Boeheim escaped any criticism. But he was able to offer a pretty accurate assessment of the proceedings. "We learned a lot," he said.
USA Basketball learned that it needs another big guard. It learned that playing with centers is ridiculous in international basketball. "It's five out," Boeheim said. "It's like playing Princeton."
And it learned that there is a lot of work to be done before Beijing in '08, beginning with next year's Olympic qualifying tournament, an ordeal we Americans didn't think would be necessary, what with our expected romp to victory in Japan.
"We'll probably have seven or eight of these guys together for the Olympics," Boeheim said. "We'll be all right."
Anybody who sees Boeheim complaining to referees during a game or wincing as one of his players fails to execute properly may find it hard to believe that he's actually a pretty calm guy and is prone to reasonable analysis of basketball, and most importantly, his team.
There have been times when he has played the Orange up or down, but for the most part, he'll let you know what he thinks. When he says, "I like our team," you can expect 20-plus wins, a high Big East finish and a good NCAA Tournament seeding. Of course, he says that pretty much every year, and he's usually right. Syracuse has won 20 or more games in 28 of Boeheim's 30 seasons and is usually in the upper echelon of the Big East.
Even when things aren't as good as expected, Syracuse usually finds a way. Take last year, when the Orange tied for ninth in the conference standings yet unfurled a semi-miraculous four-game performance in the Garden to capture the Big East title and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It was an amazing body of work, made even more impressive by the fact that the total margin of victory in the four games was eight points.
Even though Syracuse crashed in the tournament's first round when Gerry McNamara tried to play hurt and couldn't, it gets big points for the New York show. And with only one starter -- McNamara -- gone from the team, it's time for another honest Boeheim assessment of his club:
"I like our team," he said.
There you have it, folks. Pencil the Orange in for 20 more wins. Another NCAA invite. More Big East success.
What's that, Jim? There's more?
"I'd be disappointed if we didn't have a real good year."
Whoa. That sounds like 25 wins. A run at the league crown. A real high NCAA seeding.
That's Boeheim. He doesn't care if he's just set the bar incredibly high for his team. He'll go out and chase it. And if Syracuse doesn't get that high, what are they going to do, fire him? Forget it.
Now that Boeheim has won a national title, the critics have to keep their mouths shut, because even though he could coach for two-plus decades before cutting down the net, the national championship gave him the kind of cachet necessary to stare down the people who have accused him of not being able to handle the big games. You didn't hear too much in '05 when Syracuse lost to Vermont in the NCAA first round. Ten years ago, Boeheim would have been roasted by the fans and in the press.
Now, he'll enter his 31st year at his alma mater with a team that is stacked up front, should be just fine with Josh Wright stepping in for McNamara and can't wait to unleash freshman Paul Harris on the world. Syracuse will be deep -- for a change. It will play some -- are you ready for this? -- man-to-man defense, actually a lot, if Harris is as good as advertised. And it will win a lot of games. Boeheim may have plenty to write about his summer vacation, but come March, he may have an even better story.