Highs & lows: Beat writers break down Syracuse’s season after disappointing end for SU
After an early exit from the NCAA Tournament, Daily Orange beaters look at Syracuse’s up-and-down season with player and final grades, a breakdown of every rotational player and head coach Jim Boeheim and team superlatives.
Final grades and season assessments are below.
It’s not easy to grade a team that went from unbeatable to unable to score. What started out as the best season in program history ends as one that most fans couldn’t forget soon enough. And while you have to give the team credit for its improbable start, seasons are judged by their finishes, and Syracuse fell face first at the end of the year. A team that many had locked into the Final Four midway through the season lost to two conference bottom-feeders in an end-of-year slide before collapsing against Dayton in the Round of 32. What a season.
Remember when Syracuse was 25-0? When Central New York was the place to be in the college basketball world and all was well at the Carrier Dome? Unfortunately for SU fans, those days are gone. The Orange’s season will be remembered in two chunks. The first chunk was filled with one close win after another. There was Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beater against Pittsburgh. C.J. Fair’s game-winner against North Carolina State. The game for the ages against Duke on Feb. 1. But then came the “bullsh*t” — the slide and the early exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Tournaments. The undefeated start was the defining moment of the season for a while, but it’s not anymore. That start will be marred by what happened in March. A loss to Dayton in the Round of 32 simply doesn’t cut it.
It’s impossible to totally ignore one of the best regular seasons in program history — after all, only one team can win it all — but it was inexcusable for this team to flame out like it did. With two potential lottery picks and another All-American, Syracuse should have reached the Sweet 16. And with its talent, anything short of the Elite Eight would be a disappointment. Seasons are made in March and the Orange’s simply fell apart.
Tyler Ennis: The unflappable freshman took Syracuse by storm this season, exceeding every expectation set for him. Head coach Jim Boeheim was right when he said repeatedly through the team’s 25-0 start that at least four or five wins would’ve been losses without Ennis. While his two shots that could’ve pushed SU into the Sweet 16 didn’t fall, there’s no way the Orange would have been in that situation without him.
Trevor Cooney: There were times when he looked like the best shooter in the country, but far too often he was useless. His defense was always solid, but as the only capable 3-point shooter on the team, he couldn’t afford the cold stretches that made up essentially the entire ACC season. His nonconference success is a distant memory.
Jerami Grant: Because of that back injury, there’s a huge what-if attached to Grant’s season. At times he was unstoppable, but he was never anything more than a third option for Syracuse and was unable to consistently produce. He was always dominant on the glass — specifically the offensive glass — but he never developed that jump shot that people hoped he would and delivered his worst performance of the year in the season-ending loss to Dayton.
Rakeem Christmas: Christmas flaunted his post game at times during the year and disappeared at others. With DaJuan Coleman out for the year, he was often relied on to play more minutes late in the season. When he stayed out of foul trouble, he was generally productive. When he didn’t, the Orange suffered.
C.J. Fair: Fair was named a second-team All-American and was Syracuse’s most consistent scorer for the majority of the season. His patented mid-range jumper continued to improve — as it has each year — and was a viable option for Syracuse’s offense. Fair helped his NBA stock and was one of the main reasons for Syracuse’s 25-0 start.
Michael Gbinije: Gbinije — in his first season after transferring from Duke —improved considerably throughout the course of the season. At first he was noticeably hesitant and reluctant to shoot. But as the season progressed, so did Gbinije. He showcased an ability to get to the basket, fit perfectly in the zone off the bench and became more comfortable shooting from outside. He played his best game of the year against Dayton and showed positive signs for next season.
Baye Moussa Keita: The senior center never provided all too much offense, but that was never his role. He played solid defense overall, was a vocal leader and served as a reliable backup to Christmas. Like Christmas, though, Keita often found himself in foul trouble. His poor hands still drove Syracuse fans crazy, but overall he was a steady seventh man.
Tyler Roberson: Roberson is best remembered for being bashed by Boeheim after the Georgia Tech game, but still showed enough flashes of success to merit high expectations in coming years. While the freshman was unable to contribute with Grant injured down the stretch, he has the physical build and the skill set to break out in the future.
Jim Boeheim: Boeheim is Boeheim, and he’ll always be Boeheim. The zone was good. The offense was simple. The Orange disappointed in the postseason. Getting this team to 25-0 with a freshman point guard and an eight-man — at best — rotation was unbelievable, but so was losing during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament with this talented roster. He got ejected for the first time, but even that couldn’t light a fire under his team and he never stopped the bleeding for SU.
The highest high: Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beater at Pittsburgh
With all that’s happened in the last month, it’s easy to forget about arguably the greatest shot in Syracuse history. Ennis’ 35-footer at the horn turned what would’ve been a disappointing Orange loss to a mass silencing of the Petersen Events Center. He raced back down court in front of the horde of Pitt fans raising middle fingers as the SU bench — led by graduate assistant Nick Resavy — stormed the court.
Lowest low: Loss to North Carolina State in first round of ACC tournament
Syracuse needed one 3 to tie the game, but the Orange missed six attempts in a row in the final 21 seconds to fall 66-63 to N.C. State. C.J. Fair had a decent look from the corner. Trevor Cooney bricked two shots and passed up a decent look. Jerami Grant’s dunk hit the back rim and bounced out. Syracuse lost a game it should have won and was eliminated from the ACC tourney.
Worst loss: Georgia Tech on March 4
Yes, N.C. State and Dayton knocked SU out of tournaments. But the 67-62 loss to the Yellow Jackets, even without Grant, was far more embarrassing. The Orange lost to a mediocre team without the shooters and post presence to beat a zone (see: Boston College). It was a game that many fans would try to sweep under the rug, but unfortunately turned out to be a sign of things to come.
Single-game performance: Trevor Cooney vs. Notre Dame on Feb. 3
Cooney tied a program record with nine made 3-pointers as Syracuse squeaked past the Irish in the Carrier Dome. For all the flak he’s getting after a tumultuous stretch to end the season, this game proved his ability to catch fire and shoot with the nation’s best. He made shots from all around the arc and at every angle.
Best win: Duke on Feb. 1
Jim Boeheim called it the greatest game ever played in the Carrier Dome. He’s seen a lot of games in the Dome, but never one where both teams played at such a high level. The game had everything: a record crowd, two Hall of Fame coaches, back-and-forth, fast-paced action and clutch shot after clutch shot. It ended in a 91-89 overtime win for Syracuse — the most exciting game in a season that SU started on a torrid pace.
Turning point: First loss to Boston College on Feb. 19
Syracuse was outplayed by Boston College at home and ended up losing 62-59 to end its perfect season. That was the beginning of the end, as it was all downhill from there. Letting teams hang around finally caught up to SU, which dropped six out of its last nine games to end the season.
Published on March 25, 2014 at 1:20 am