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Syracuse Orange Basketball: It's Not Last Season Anymore, Or Is It?

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-- SB Nation New York's Howard Megdal posts his Big East observations.

The sports world is a very interesting place. Especially for fans who sometimes may think they're apart of an alternate universe.

Case in point: The start of the season by the 2010-'11 Syracuse Orange compared to the '09-'10 team.

For starters, lets begin with the Big East's preseason coaches polls, which last season slotted the Orange sixth out of 16 teams and this season had SU third.

*Syracuse finished 2009-'10 a top of the Big East regular season standings and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The preseason college basketball polls: Last season, Syracuse was a honorable mention in the AP poll and No. 25 in the USA Today/ESPN poll; and this year ranked SU No. 10 and 13, respectively.

*March 1st, 2010, the Orange are earn No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1990.

Preseason teams: In 2009, the only Orange player to receive any preseason hoopla was center Arinze Onuaku, a honorable mention. In 2010, forward Kris Joseph earned second-team honors. 

*Last year, small forward Wesley Johnson earned the league's MVP award.

Syracuse's 7-0 record: Last year, the Cuse' dropped a preseason game to Division-II Le Moyne but rallied to beat No. 11 California, No. 4 North Carolina and Cornell. This season, tight victories against non-ranked Michigan and Georgia Tech.

Head coach Jim Boeheim's tone after improving to 7-0 last season after beating Colgate:

"It's great when you shoot the ball like that," Jim Boeheim said after his 1,000th win at Syracuse, 806 as head coach and 194 as a player and assistant coach. "I think our offense was pretty good in the first half."

Boeheim's tone after improving to 7-0 this season after beating Cornell:

"The first half we came out, did a good job on the boards, made some good decisions. The second half we thought the game was over," Boeheim said. "Our four best ballhandlers had 16 turnovers. We just can't seem to put consistent efforts together.

"When you don't have good effort, people are going to score," Boeheim said. "We just made ridiculous turnovers that we just can't have. We just can't seem to get together for 40 minutes. We're a long ways from where we need to be at this stage of the year."

Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard reaction after last year's 7-0 start:

"A Syracuse Orange team that had become known for delivering second-half knockouts played like a young Mike Tyson on Monday night. The Orange cold-cocked Colgate right from the opening tip, roaring out to a 33-point first-half lead en route to a 92-58 victory over the visiting Raiders in front of 18,457 fans at the Carrier Dome."

Waters after Tuesday's victory against the Big Red:

"But the Orange looked lackluster in the second half, suffering defensive lapses and committing 12 turnovers after the break. Cornell (2-5) outscored Syracuse 41-40 in the second period."

Same program. Same record. Same No. 8 ranking in the national polls. However, the atmosphere around the success is much different.

Before the beginning of last season, SU fans figured the team would be competitive. Five weeks later, Orange nation couldn't comprehend what it was witnessing. Their team was 12-0, ranked No. 5 by both polls and because of Johnson's talents and the all-around scrappiness of the squad they were a pleasure to watch.

For Syracuse supporters last year's regular season was much like the 2003 NCAA Tournament run. Each 'W' felt bigger and better.

"Can we really get to 13-0? Oh man, we're in the Top 5 this week! Wow, Kansas, Kentucky and Purdue all lost? A No. 1 ranking! Unbelievable!" 

Once the Orange reached that pinnacle, every SU supporters felt apart of it because that team played their rears off night-in and night-out and surprised everyone. Including its own fans.

The start of this season is different. The support is still there but it seems this year's squad of young guns has brought about entitlement issues -- given to them by scouts, experts and poll voters -- and the blue-collar folk of Syracuse have a tough time buying into a highly-ranked team that hasn't earned its high rank.

It starts with the highly-touted freshmen Fab Melo who, until Tuesday night, hasn't been so fabulous. 

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Fab Melo 7 13.4 1.0 1.9 53.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.4 20.0 1.0 1.6 2.6 0.1 0.6 0.4 1.0 2.3 2.3

His preseason selection of Big East Rookie Of The Year is coming off as a bad prank on a touted freshman.

Basically the thinking behind the prank was, "So experts think you're the next Patrick Ewing? Well, okay. We'll give you the satisfaction of a meaningless preseason award and see lets see how you deal with these new, higher expectations!"

The other player putting gas on the we-have-been-given-everything-because-we-are-highly-ranked-by-college-scouts, is shooting guard Dion Watiers.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Dion Waiters 7 15.4 2.6 5.7 45.0 1.3 3.0 42.9 0.9 1.4 60.0 0.3 1.0 1.3 1.1 0.7 1.0 0.0 1.3 7.3

Reports are that Waiters is trying to improve his jumper with SU legend and current coach Gerry McNamara.

However, his sloppy play -- Waiters committed three turnovers on Tuesday -- hasn't helped fans gain confidence in the freshman who was ranked the 15th best recruit by ESPN's scout department.

In fairness to Melo and Waiters, they didn't ask for the hoopla which is now surrounding them and placing an unfair anvil on their backs. But that comes with the SU territory, which over the past seven years has brought in young guns like Carmelo Anthony, McNamara, Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn.

In their first years, those guys produced despite the hype. And that's why, I think, this year's 7-0 feels different for SU fans.

Yes, the team is exactly where they were a year ago but this year's squad hasn't truly earned that Top-10 ranking. The honor was practically given to the Orange because of names like Melo or Waiters or Boeheim. That type of entitlement-like thinking is not the Upstate New York way.

Boeheim knows sooner or later his team is going to be put in their rightful place. SU fans are guarding against getting their hopes up and believing in the "unearned" national attention.

This year is different because instead of thinking, "Look at my team! Look at what we're doing!"

SU faithful are thinking, "Look away. We're good but not that good. Please come back to us when we've done something."

In the next six days the Orange will get their shot to do something noteworthy.

Orange Basketball Schedule

Next 5 Games

N.C. State Sat 12/04 5:15 PM EST
Michigan St. Tue 12/07 9:00 PM EST
Colgate Sat 12/11 7:00 PM EST
Iona Sat 12/18 7:00 PM EST
Morgan St. Mon 12/20 7:00 PM EST

Last 5 Games

Cornell Tue 11/30 W 78 - 58
@ Georgia Tech Sat 11/27 W 80 - 76
@ Michigan Fri 11/26 W 53 - 50
William & Mary Sun 11/21 W 63 - 60
Detroit Tue 11/16 W 66 - 55

The results from those games against NC State (ESPN 2) and No. 6 Michigan State (at Madison Square Garden on ESPN) will either earn the trust of Orange nation; or help buildup a protective wall against hopeful thinking.

Just think, a year ago SU followers were in the same predicament entering a game against No. 11 Florida, Dec. 10 -- SU won 85-73 in Tampa, FL, and improved to 9-0.

And you thought I was kidding about the alternate universe thing?