After having its best-but-worst season in program history end Saturday with a tightly-contested loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8, the Syracuse Orange supporters are doing what loyal college hoops fans do best -- talking about the "ifs," "ands," "buts" and "what nows?" of their program.
Currently, Orange nation is still looking back on this season's disappointing end, while looking at the state of the program after the departure of four of their players and wondering what's to come for next season.
If you're a Syracuse basketball fan wanting some answers, well, I am here to provide them, along with some opinions on the Orange's past and future.
Let's begin with question No. 1...
What happened against Ohio State?
As mentioned before, the Orange's tumultuous season came to a screeching halt Saturday, as the No. 2 Buckeyes outmuscled and outplayed Syracuse to move on to the Final Four.
By now, Syracuse fans have seen the highlights more than once, read a column or two (the good / the bad) about what the loss means and are ready to move on to the 2012-13 season. But before I decided to do that, I want to make a few points about Saturday's loss, with the first topic being the officiating.
Now, I hate blaming officials for the outcomes of games, as I believe its lazy and is always an easy scapegoat for a fan base to cover up the real issue for a disappointing outcome -- their team just wasn't good enough to win.
Though I believe the latter was truer in Syracuse's loss, I also think John Higgins', Thomas O’Neill's and Michael Nance's combined 49-whistle effort did affect the Orange's chances to win that contest.
Entering Saturday's contest, my scouting report said, "pace and defense will determine the winner in this one. A slower, more physical tempo will favor the bigger, stronger Buckeyes squad, while an up-and-down, transition game is what Syracuse wants to do."
In the end, zero, let me repeat that, zero transition points were scored in a contest which featured two very athletic and talented programs.
Syracuse did fail to take full advantage of Ohio St.'s star forward Jared Sullinger sitting out 14 minutes of the first half, but in a game where pace and tempo was extremely important, three men -- all ranked in the Top 50 out of 100 NCAA Division I officials in fouls called per game (O'Neill ranked 7th; Higgins 13th; Nance 34th) -- did dictate the outcome.
With that said, good luck to Ohio St., the better team that day, and on to my second take on the Syracuse loss...
Retrospectively, how good were Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine?
In a part of the season where a team is suppose to rely on its seniors or most talented player on the floor, the Orange had neither happen.
Instead, their best player (sophomore guard Dion Waiters) was on the bench with foul trouble, its senior floor general (Jardine) was on the bench because his head coach didn't think he was the best option and its veteran star (Joseph) decided to put together one of the most uninspired performances of his collegiate career.
Simply put, Syracuse's playmakers weren't good enough to get the job done, and what really needs to be asked is: Were Jardine and Joseph ever good enough to carry this team to a Final Four?
Now, during a season that featured so much turmoil and unpredicted obstacles, its tough to pick apart the two seniors that both helped this program put together its most historic regular season -- a 30-1 record.
After covering this team the whole year, I have no doubt that Syracuse doesn't come close to winning the Big East regular-season title and earn its No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed without Jardine and Joseph's leadership, as many of the young players would have cracked under the off-the-court pressure.
Jardine's confidence in himself, teammates and coaches were contagious, and it was a key reason in the Orange's success. And despite his critics calling for freshman guard Michael Carter-Williams, Jardine always seemed to be a big part in Syracuse's big moments.
Meanwhile, Joseph was, well, Joseph -- a threat on paper, however, not so much in reality.
After earning the Big East Conference's Sixth Man of the Year award during his sophomore season, which featured 10.8 points per game and a collegiate-high 5.5 rebounds per game, Joseph never reached that next level in his game (or so it seemed).
The 6-foot-7 forward, who could, at times, play like a guard, just disappeared in too many late-game situations in the past two seasons, and in the biggest game of his Orange career he netted just 10 points, committed four turnovers and missed both of his three-point shots.
Joseph's final collegiate performance has the perception of a choke job, but I beg to differ. In the end, Joseph was never the player Syracuse fans thought he could be. In retrospect, Joseph's expectations never fit his real attitude and playing skills, as Joseph was probably a better fit as a senior leader coming off the bench, instead of the team's "go-to" guy.
With that said, its impossible to predict how Syracuse, as a team, would have shaped out with Waiters -- a more talented and confident player -- as a starter over Joseph, because the Orange's roster called for Joseph to start (no second option at small forward); and Boeheim couldn't place Waiters in the starter's role after last offseason.
Let me be clear, I never once called for Waiters to start and Joseph to be "benched." I am just making a point that Waiter's skill level, confidence and attitude fit that alpha-dog role -- which I believe would have benefited SU more in a top-notch contest against an elite squad like Ohio St. -- much better than Joseph's. And, in my opinion, Saturday's performance proved it.
In conclusion, Joseph's and Jardine's legacies will be what every student-athlete's should be, as both improved as players, graduated and were outstanding leaders who helped their program earn historic feats. But there will be a feeling of disappointment, as both were not good enough to finish what they wanted to accomplish -- a National Championship.
Is Waiters' decision to the enter the NBA Draft the right one?
As reported Monday, Syracuse's sophomore guard, Waiters, decided to hire an agent and enter the 2012 NBA Draft. There were hopes that Waiters, who got better as the season progressed but still needed some work to become an elite player, was going to return to SU next year and to make a title run which could make him a lottery pick.
However, the obvious happened, and my take on this topic is the same one that Sean Keeley, the creator and manager of the SB Nation blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, had. It was a no brainier.
Of Course Syracuse's Dion Waiters Should Go Pro - NunesMagician.com (via nunesmagician)
Next season with and without Nerlens Noel
The next big thing for Syracuse basketball fans is the commitment announcement of the Class of 2012's top recruit, center Nerlens Noel.
The blue-chip prospect announced his reclassification in early February, and since then as been heavily recruited by the Orange's coaching staff (and players) to fill the void of Fab Melo -- Syracuse's 7-foot center who was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament and is expected to test the NBA Draft waters.
If Syracuse is able to land Noel, who's expected to make his decision in the next week or two, it will again feature one of the deepest rosters in the country.
Here's my projected '12-13 Syracuse lineup with Noel:
PG: Michael Carter-Williams, So.
Tidbit: Former McDonald's All-American, impressed in limited playing time
SG: Brandon Triche, Sr.
Tidbit: 1,000-point scorer who enters as three-year starter
SF: C.J. Fair, Jr.
Tidbit: Off bench played second-most minutes in '11-12 (26.8), 8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg.
PF: Rakeem Christmas, So.
Tidbit: Former McDonald's All-American, started 34 of 36 games
C: Nerlens Noel, Fr.
Tidbit: Considered best player in Class of '12; elite defensive presence
Bench: James Southerland, Sr., SF
Tidbit: 6.9 ppg in '11-12, one of top performers in NCAAs
Bench: *Baye Moussa-Kieta, Jr., C
Tidbit: Struggled in '11-12, but solid performance (10 rebounds, 4 blocks) vs. Ohio St.
Bench: Trevor Cooney, RS Fr., SG
Tidbit: Delaware Player of the Year, redshirted in '11-12, three-point shooter
Bench: DeJuan Coleman, Fr. PF/C
Tidbit: '12 McDonald's All-American
Bench: *Jerami Grant, Fr. SF
Tidbit: Ranked 43rd-best prospect by ESPN.com
* possible redshirts
Even without Noel, Syracuse still would have a deep and talented team that would be one of the favorites to win the Big East, as Christmas probably moves to the starting center role and Coleman (6-foot-10) slips into the starting power forward slot.
The bench would then feature Southerland and Keita as the solid vets, the sharpshooter Cooney and Grant as next year's Carter-Williams (a player with talent but doesn't play much because of depth) or the top candidate to get a redshirt.
Overall, the roster is loaded with talent with Triche, who'd enter as a two-year starter, showcasing, at least, three former McDonald's All-Americans, and an improving Fair and Southerland.
Next year's expectations
Expectations will mainly hinge on what Noel decides to do. If he picks Syracuse, well, the Orange will more than likely, again, be one of the big favorites to win the Big East and be a possible preseason Top 5 team.
Without Noel, the Orange are still a good team, but will need vast improvements in the games of Triche, Fair, Christmas and Southerland to be a contender on a national stage. They should make the Top 25 preseason rankings, but there's no telling where they will be after losing four quality players.
For more on Syracuse basketball's offseason, check back to this StoryStream. Meanwhile, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician is all about the Orange.