If there was one word to describe the Syracuse men’s basketball season, what would it be? There’s quite a few different adjectives that come to mind, but we’re gonna go with unpredictable.
As usual, there were ups and downs throughout the months leading up to the NCAA Tournament. The Orange did not field a perfect team by any means this year, but they still managed to garner a few impressive wins prior to their ultimate downfall in the big dance.
Buddy Boeheim in particular stunned Syracuse fans and critics alike, as the coach’s son emerged to stardom in 2021.
So, how did this all happen? Let’s break it down for you in our Syracuse men’s basketball season recap.
To almost no well-informed individual’s surprise, Syracuse started out their season on the upside in out of conference play.
The Orange’s level of competition in the earlier weeks of the season qualified as unimpressive to say the least, as most of their games played came against lackluster schools from non-power conferences.
However, that didn’t absolve the ‘Cuse from receiving a bumpy and competitive road along the way.
Despite winning for the most part, the Orange still dropped a game against Rutgers (79-69) and cut it close against Bryant and Duke.
Sure, the Orange started out with a 6-1 record, but their early inconsistency issues served as a shadow of their gloomy fate to come in the month of January.
After defeating Buffalo by a score of 107-96 in the middle of December, the Orange went into quarantine for a few weeks due to an outbreak of coronavirus on the Bulls squad subsequent to their matchup with Syracuse. The news blindsided the Orange and their fans, as the team would not take the court again until January 6th.
Of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s that long breaks can severely push a team back and break their momentum. That served as the case for the ‘Cuse, as the team dropped three of their next four and posted a record of 4-4 in the month of January.
Of those losses, two came by single digits and two by double digits. However, the Orange held their own in most of the other games, somehow defeating then ranked Virginia Tech by nearly 30 points and knocking off Patrick Ewing’s Big East Champion Georgetown.
This bumpy road serves as a reminder as to why college basketball is truly so special, as anything can happen on any given gameday.
For a second straight month, the Orange left the basketball world puzzled after posting a 3-3 record in February.
The Orange got the job done against NC State, Boston College, and Notre Dame, but still never managed to defeat any of those teams by more than single digits.
Meanwhile, the Orange struggled mightily in the rest of their matchups, losing to Clemson, Duke, and Georgia Tech by fairly wide margins for the most part.
The underwhelming month for the team came as a little bit of a wake-up call, as critics and pundits alike started to express their concern on whether Syracuse would qualify for the field of 68.
Ah yes, March. For college basketball fans, there’s no better time of the year. The month stands as a celebration for all that makes the sport so great and unpredictable. Dreams are fulfilled and others crushed, as the constant struggle to qualify for the field of 68 finally comes to a close in this decisive month. For the unpredictable Orange, each matchup stood as a must-win game with so much on the line.
The Orange started off the month against the North Carolina Tar Heels in a clash between two of the most legendary head coaches in college basketball. Roy Williams’s team fought valiantly, but the Orange managed to squeak out a 72-70 win thanks to an outstanding 26 point performance by Buddy Boeheim.
In their last game of the regular season, Syracuse took the court against the Clemson Tigers.
Despite exceeding the expectations of many college basketball fans this year, the Tigers proved to be no match for the Orange, losing 64-54 to close out the season.
With two more massively important victories under their belt, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse started to look like a tournament ready team.
How many more wins would Syracuse need to snag in order to qualify for the field of 68? The answer at the time came as unclear, but it stood out as the million dollar question for bracketologists and fans alike.
With or without their two early March wins, the Orange knew that they would be on the bubble coming into the ACC Tournament.
Furthermore, they understood that putting their best foot forward no matter who the opponent qualified as necessary for full effectiveness. To the satisfaction of many ‘Cuse fans, that’s exactly what they did.
Led by senior guard Buddy Boeheim, the Orange made the most out of their two games in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Firstly, Syracuse made quick work of the tournament hopeful NC State by a score of 89-68. Despite there being numerous players in double figures for the team, Buddy Boeheim stood out once again, knocking down 27 points in the afternoon.
In their second game of the tournament, Syracuse faced the 1st seeded Virginia Cavaliers. Although the Orange ultimately came up short thanks to a three point buzzer beater by Virginia, their 72-69 defeat showed that they could at least hold their own with the best.
For this reason, Syracuse climbed the rankings of most experts and secured their spot in the tournament to a further extent.
NCAA Tournament Early Rounds
Syracuse entered the best sporting event in all of college sports as an 11 seed. The road they traveled qualified as an uphill battle, but the Orange still made the most of it before meeting their ultimate fate.
In the round of 64, Syracuse shockingly destroyed San Diego State by a score of 78-62 thanks to their simple but quite unbreakable zone defense. Buddy Boeheim also played arguably the best game of his entire career, tallying 30 points and 4 rebounds.
The way the Orange downed the Aztecs came as a complete shock to almost all, as SDSU came into the middle of March as an AP Top 25 team who had won their last 14 games.
However, Jim Boeheim had been here before, and he had Syracuse ready as the all around better team for that night.
Syracuse’s win against the Aztecs gave the Orange a round of 32 matchup against legendary head coach Bob Huggins and the 3 seeded West Virginia Mountaineers.
As one would expect, WVU established a much stronger fight against the Orange, giving Syracuse a few scares down the stretch on multiple occasions. No matter how hard the Orange tried, they could not seem to get any separation against the Mountaineers.
However, the game eventually came to a close with Syracuse hanging on to a 75-72 victory. It was not pretty by any means, but Jim Boeheim once again showed why he’s up there with some of college basketball’s greats.
Sweet 16 vs Houston
In the round of 16, Syracuse finally met their fate against the 2nd seeded Houston Cougars. Even with a puzzling zone defense, the Orange struggled to gain any upper hand against the Cougars during the course of the game and ultimately lost 62-46.
The Houston defense had an answer for just about anything the Orange threw at them, as nobody on Syracuse scored more than 12 points. H-Town’s defense bottled up Buddy Boeheimand Marek Dolezaj forgot how to make big plays under the basket when it counted.
When everything was said and done, the loss qualified as one of the worst in Syracuse men’s basketball NCAA Tournament history.
As stated earlier, one could look at this year’s Syracuse basketball season with either optimism and pessimism.
On the positive side of things, Buddy Boeheim produced a season to remember and led the Orange to yet another sweet 16 appearance. On the negative side of things, Syracuse missed quite a few opportunities during the regular season to earn higher and more reliable seeding in the tournament.
However, if we have to pick a side, we’re gonna go with the optimistic approach. Despite not making it as far as they wished to in the tournament, the Orange finished with a very impressive record for a team that faced so much adversity during the course of the season.
This program faced the reality of not having fans, coronavirus concerns, game cancellations, and so much more. It’s a massive challenge to maintain consistency in basketball when your team doesn’t play on a normal basis. So, with all that being said, ‘Cuse fans should be proud of their Orange.
As for future seasons, don’t expect this program to leave the realm of college basketball relevancy any time soon.
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