Men's Basketball

Schwedelson: Syracuse’s season will be remembered for its unfulfilled potential

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

John Gillon and the Orange failed to live up to the potential they seemingly had.

Some day, when the sting fades and joy overrides disappointment, you’ll sit back and reminisce. You’ll remember the feeling you had when John Gillon couldn’t miss on his way to his first buzzer-beater and 43 points. When Tyus Battle converted the game’s final shot, got mobbed by his team and you jumped off your couch. When, “I’ll never step on the Carrier Dome court again,” crossed your mind three times in the span of a month.

But then as the memories flood back, they’ll come with a crippling caveat. Syracuse lost its most games ever under 41-year head coach Jim Boeheim. It lost its most nonconference games in program history. It made a postseason tournament, but not The Tournament.

The Orange never lived up an incredibly frustrating concept: its potential.

This season won’t be remembered positively because that promise was never realized. The unfulfilled expectations are what led to the upset, anger and pull-your-hair-out experiences. A team that beat three Top 10 opponents in the Dome should be at least somewhat competent on the road. A team ranked No. 19 preseason should do a little better than 8-6 to start the year. A team supposedly better than last season’s Final Four team should …

“Whatever you hope is irrelevant. It’s what the team does,” Boeheim said. “We did not play well early. That’s what ended up costing us.”

With former head coach-designate Mike Hopkins’ departure for Washington the day after the Orange lost in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, SU’s season ended with more than just a thud.

While Boeheim said he’s as excited as ever for the upcoming season, it’ll take time for the bitter taste of this past one to dissipate.

Boeheim said one more win would have secured the Orange an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. There’s no way to know for certain, but “you have a different outlook then,” Boeheim said. In that scenario, the season wouldn’t be remembered as one of Boeheim’s seven in which SU played in the NIT. The great memories wouldn’t be dragged down based on the postseason tournament Syracuse played in.

But that’s not how it went down or how it will go down.

“It’s life, man,” Gillon said. “You don’t always get what you want.”

What you’ll want to remember is the collective exhale that Syracuse basketball could still compete after it beat Florida State handily. The “stick it to the NCAA” mentality after Boeheim won his unofficial 1,000th game. The euphoric disbelief after Gillon’s buzzer-beater beat Duke.

Each time, students sprinted onto the court because they didn’t expect Syracuse to win, a testament to how low the bar fell after the team’s rotten start.

The Orange never gave up, though. SU won four of its eight-straight games in which it trailed by double digits. Three of the four games it lost were by an average of five points, proving Syracuse wouldn’t easily wilt.

But no matter how hard Syracuse fought, the Orange never fully delivered. The question of what could have been will forever haunt this team’s legacy.

“We just didn’t maximize our potential,” Andrew White said on Saturday. “… It almost seems like the season shouldn’t be over just based on the potential of this team. But potential gives you everything to be proud of or everything to fall back and be disappointed about.

“We didn’t get it done.”

After the season ended, Boeheim reiterated that he made a mistake saying this year’s team had more talent than any Syracuse squad in a while. But admitting that doesn’t help the irritation that comes with missing the Tournament.

And it certainly doesn’t help when thinking about all the missed opportunities: The 33-point loss to St. John’s, Syracuse and Boeheim’s worst-ever in Dome history. The 15-point loss to Boston College, the ACC’s worst. The five-point loss to Miami, the Orange’s last chance to make an impression before the Tournament.

“You can’t always have that dream outcome,” White said.

Considering Syracuse’s potential, this season was a nightmare.

Paul Schwedelson is a senior staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at pmschwed@syr.edu or on Twitter @pschweds.

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