I don’t think I have ever seen a Syracuse basketball season that was anything like this. Dancing on the edge of disaster for game after game. Trying to cobble together a successful season with essentially three competent players. It’s a testament to the post dominance of Rakeem Christmas that the team has even managed to get into the precarious position in which they find themselves. But not only do they have basically no margin for error, they have to even play above their standard game in order to pull out a win against even middling competition.
The closest recent parallel to this team would be the 2005-2006 squad. That team was on the wrong side of the bubble line going into the Big East Tournament. Their first-round opponent in that tourney was Cincinnati in what everyone essentially said was a play-in game. That squad was 1.5 seconds from the NIT before the Gerry McNamagic (TM) began. We all know the story. But think about it. Without Rakeem Christmas, this year’s team wouldn’t have won ten bleeping games. These guys were not ready. They needed him.
The other starters on the 2006 squad were Eric Devendorf (freshman year) and the junior triumvirate of Watkins, Roberts, and Nichols, who were all entering their first years as full-time starters (having played behind Warrick, Forth, and Pace). The team lost 10 regular season games prior to their BET run. But even that team had some amount of depth. Four bench guys played in 29 or more games, and a fifth (skinny freshman Andy Rautins) got into 20. This year, thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, there is no bench. There is Ron Patterson who comes in for Kaleb Joseph when Joseph is having a bad game. That’s it. Everyone else plays 40 minutes if they can. And good god help us if they can’t.
At this stage I don’t expect this squad will make the NCAAs. I don’t think anyone does, outside of the locker room perhaps. It is true that they have a lot of games against really good teams coming up and if they can come through and win a couple, they can end up with a tournament-worthy resume. But so far when they’ve had those opportunities, they’ve not been able to come through. The UNC game, sure, but primarily the loss to Villanova, and the loss to Miami. These were both games that SU gave away in one fashion or another. I’m not sure which hurts more. Nova on the road would have been a solid resume builder ’statement’ win. But losing to another bubble team — a conference foe no less — at home is the kind of thing that makes the difference in the selection room. It’s clear that SU will have to grab a couple of big wins down the road, whether in the rest of the regular season or the ACC tournament. I just hope they win enough games to at least qualify for the NIT.
Thanks to OrangeHoops for refreshing my memory about the 2006 squad.