Thursday night I swore that I would not write this article. College basketball was over, bring on the NBA playoffs, Red Sox opening day, anything really. I couldn’t handle even thinking about the massive no-show I had just witnessed, the last game I’d watch as a fan as well as a student. It’s not even that we lost so much as the way we lost. Make no mistake about it, this was the worst game of the season apart from LeMoyne, and it could not have come at a worse time. Just when it looked like we were getting the swagger that made us a top team back, the offense sputtered, nerves that rarely surfaced over the course of the season showed, and we were beaten by a very good defensive team in Butler.
I could go on and on about the reasons we lost the game. Arinze being out was huge. In the first two rounds our transition offense was clicking and we ran Vermont and Gonzaga off the floor, but dragged into Butler’s grind-it-out tempo, we needed a presence in the paint on offense. Rick Jackson’s foul trouble kept him from establishing any sort of rhythm, and we ended up with basically zero production from the center position that is good for over 20 points a game with Onuaku healthy.
Excuses out of the way first, there is still no way we should have lost that game. We were careless with the ball, Kris Joseph struggled, Scoop’s shot selection looked more like ’08 Scoop and not the heady player we saw all this season, and let’s face it, Boeheim was outcoached by one of the rising stars in the coaching world, Butler’s 33 year-old Brad Stevens. For Wes Johnson to not be involved in the offense down the stretch was inexcusable considering how well he’d been playing in the tournament.
And we lost by 4. With one of the least impressive performances of they year we still somehow nearly pulled out a win. In case you boycotted the rest of the tournament, Butler now has as good a chance as anyone in the Final 4 to cut down the nets. It could be us. It probably should be us. I still firmly believe that when we played our best there wasn’t single team in the country that could play with us. The fact that it’s not us in Indianapolis hurts as much as anything else that has ever happened to me in my life as a mildly-obsessive sports fan. The gut punches of Aaron Boone’s homerun and the Pats blowing their perfect season to the shittier of the Manning brothers are the only other times I’ve felt as dejected as I did while I sulked home from Chucks Thursday night. BUT, despite the way it ended, I hope everyone can take a step back appreciate the season we all just witnessed.
Not since Carmelo and our 2003 Championship team has Syracuse put a more dynamic team on the floor. We really had it all, shooters, slashers, point guard production, post presence, vocal leadership from Andy Rautins and a legitimate superstar in Wesley Johnson. We got to see one of the best zone defenses Boeheim has even concocted, and watched it orchestrated to perfection by players with the size, length and athleticism to wreck havoc on opposing offenses. The movement on the zone was a thing of beauty, traps were suffocating, and we protected the rim. Stemming from that defense, we saw a downright scary fastbreak team, capable of putting points up in a hurry. When you have a team where 7 players could legitimately drop 20+ points on any given night, you end up with some pretty impressive nights offensively. This team topped 90 points seven times this year. SEVEN! I don’t even think the Nets have done that. If there was one weakness with our team, it was that we didn’t have someone who could create shots for himself off the dribble in big situations. With so many other scoring threats it seemed like we may get away without having that creator, but it would have been huge down the stretch against Butler. Kris Joseph will be that player next year, but he wasn’t quite ready for it yet.
Finally, let’s give Jim Boeheim his due. The Hall