SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Last season, the Syracuse Orange had to sweat out Selection Sunday, then shocked the college basketball world by advancing to the Final Four.
This season, despite Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim’s attempt to tamp down expectations at his team’s media day Friday, going that far in the NCAA Tournament wouldn’t be that big of a shock.
“I think it’s very hard, when you’re talking Final Four, you look at the last four years, the two best teams, the two best records in the country were Arizona and Virginia. They’ve won the most games and the most (conference) championships of any teams in the country, and they did not get to the Final Four,” said Boeheim, entering his 41st season leading his alma mater. “So when you start talking `You’ve got to get to the Final Four,’ you’re really foolish.
“You need to get into the tournament, that’s what you need to worry about,” he said.
Boeheim over the summer was effusive in praise of his 2016-17 squad, which features what appears to be a solid mix of talented returnees that includes: projected first-round NBA pick Tyler Lydon; a highly ranked, three-member recruiting class; two fifth-year transfers, guard John Gillon and sharpshooter Andrew White, who are eligible to play immediately; and a traditional transfer, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, who promises to be a menacing force in Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.
For much of the 2015-16 season, Syracuse was only six players deep. Boeheim said he would be comfortable playing nine or 10 players this season.
“I said this summer we have more depth, which is true, and we have a couple of guys at each position, which we haven’t had in a long time,” Boeheim said. “Now, whether that equates into a better team is something completely different from what I was talking about this summer. Maybe I wasn’t clear in what I was saying. I said, `Could be. Could be.’ I always say that. I said that one year and we won about 18 games.”
Last season’s team finished 23-14 and went just 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Associate head coach Mike Hopkins went 4-5 while Boeheim served an NCAA-imposed suspension as part of sanctions handed down by the organization.
Many predicted the Orange would fail to make the NCAA Tournament last year, and many screamed foul when the Orange were named to the field of 68. As a No. 10 seed, however, the Orange defeated Dayton and Middle Tennessee before stunning Gonzaga and Virginia to make it to Houston. Syracuse lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals.
“Last year, we were not very good,” Boeheim said. “We played really, really well in the tournament, but that doesn’t take away from the fact we were not a very good team. We need to be a lot better team this year, and we lost three really good players, two (Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije) who are playing in the NBA and one (Trevor Cooney) who’s playing in Spain.”
Syracuse is expected to be ranked in the Top 25, but that doesn’t guarantee a thing as far as Boeheim is concerned.
“Preseason rankings are good because people think you might have a chance, but you have to do it on the court,” he said.
Center DaJuan Coleman, a graduate student; senior power forward Tyler Roberson and sophomores Lydon and point guard Frank Howard return. They are joined by Chukwu, freshmen Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson and Matthew Moyer, and transfers White and Gillon, who came over from Nebraska and Colorado State, respectively.
Syracuse was hit with NCAA sanctions in March 2015. As part of the punishment, 101 of the Orange’s victories were vacated. Among those vacated wins were all 23 from the 2005-06 season, including the Big East Tournament championship when the clutch play of Gerry McNamara led the Orange to four straight wins at Madison Square Garden. Boeheim’s career wins went from 985 to 886, still third all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight.
The Orange begin play at home against Colgate Nov. 11.