“I can’t believe Syracuse got in over Oklahoma State.”
“Jim Boeheim is dirty and probably still cheating.”
“The only reason Syracuse got in is that their name sells tickets.”
You can set your watch by Syracuse getting in with a crap resume. Every goddamn year.
— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) March 11, 2018
“I can’t believe Syracuse got in over Notre Dame.”
“The Orange play a weak non-conference schedule and never leave New York.”
Syracuse could go 0-27 and make the tournament somehow. What a clown show.
— Joe Dolan (@FG_Dolan) March 11, 2018
“Syracuse only got in because the tournament is rigged against mid-majors.”
“I can’t believe Syracuse got in over Middle Tennessee State.”
How does Syracuse always get nods it doesn’t deserve?!?
— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) March 11, 2018
Chances are, you’ve been a bit mad about the Syracuse men’s basketball team since Sunday. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably been mad at Syracuse for some time now. You might even still be mad about their improbable Final Four run in 2016 as a 10-seed. And you most certainly still have contempt for SU’s decision to self-impose a postseason ban on themselves one year earlier when it was clear they weren’t going to make the Tournament anyway, just so they could tamp down impending NCAA sanctions.
Honestly, that’s all fair.
Also, honestly, Jim Boeheim, Syracuse’s basketball players, and Syracuse’s fans simply don’t care. Because with Sunday’s decision by the selection committee to put 20-13 Syracuse in the Tournament as an 11-seed, it may have completed the program’s latest transformation, from one of college basketball’s elite programs into college basketball’s biggest troll.
That’s all the more impressive when you consider that the era preceding this could arguably be considered one of the best in Syracuse Basketball history. Sure, the Orange won the National Championship in 2003, but that was bookended by an NIT appearance and a handful of early NCAA Tournament exits. Syracuse rose to national prominence in the late 80s and early 90s on the efforts of iconic college basketball stars, but are remembered more for what they didn’t do rather than for what they accomplished.
Starting in 2008, however, and ending in 2014 on the heels of their fifth Final Four appearance (Jim Boeheim’s fourth), Syracuse rose from the depths of NIT-berth mediocrity to reclaim their status among the biggest names in the sport. The Orange won 30 games in a season three separate times (2010, 2012, 2013). Twice, Syracuse won their conference (2010, 2012). Twice, they entered the NCAA Tournament as a one-seed (2010, 2012). The school was ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll on multiple occasions for the first time since 1990.
Ironically, the one time they entered the NCAA Tournament in that stretch lower than a three-seed, they reached the Final Four. If not for an Arinze Onuaku injury in 2010 and Fab Melo’s eligibility issues in 2012, they might have added another one.
However, out of this era came the NCAA investigation into Melo’s eligibility, improper benefits provided to multiple basketball players, and a discovery that Jim Boeheim’s program often failed to follow its own internal drug policy. SU self-imposed a post-season ban while the NCAA brought down the hammer, vacating 108 men’s basketball wins, suspending Boeheim for multiple games, and reducing Syracuse’s available scholarships between the 2015–16 and 2018–19 seasons from 12 to eight.
For many, this was all long overdue. Smug Jim Boeheim was just so damn unlikable. Syracuse coasted on its reputation for years. Clearly, they were cheaters of the highest order. Now, justice would be served.
More than that, this was supposed to be the nail in the coffin of Jim Boeheim’s unkillable career. The skulking curmudgeon who’d terrorized reporters for decades with snide comments and self-satisfied responses was finally on his way out. Multiple dips in postseason results throughout the 90s and 00s that would have ended many a college coach’s career hadn’t done it. The Bernie Fine Scandal hadn’t done it. Surely, these sanctions, the second time in Boeheim’s career that he’d been smacked down by the NCAA, this would be the beginning of the end and everything would be right once more in all the land.
After (spoiler alert for a 23-year-old film) William Wallace is executed in the movie Braveheart, his limbs are sent to the four corners of England to act as a warning for others not to do what he did. To paraphrase Robert the Bruce, it did not have the effect that was planned.
Unable to build a sustainable powerhouse with a lineup full of multiple All-Americans, Boeheim has had to scotch tape together a major college basketball program out of a rare one-and-doner, a couple two-and-doners, graduate transfers, and long-term projects. It’s a recipe made for mediocrity and, for most programs, that’s almost the worst fate of all.
In 2015-16, the first season following the postseason ban, it certainly showed. After a 6-0 start, everything seemingly fell apart. The team struggled during Boeheim’s suspension, going 4-5, en route to a 19-13 regular season finish that included losing five of their final six games. To the shock of many, the Orange snuck into the NCAAs as a 10-seed.
The outrage was palpable. Joe Lunardi called it a “case of poor judgment.” Doug Gottlieb ripped the selection. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg was adamant that the Orange had stolen a spot from a more worthy mid-major. Pat Forde called Syracuse’s inclusion “the most baffling in the entire bracket.”
If lessons were meant to be learned, seven-seed Dayton would obliterate the Orange and send them packing in a victory for all the mid-majors and true blue college basketball fans out there. Instead, Syracuse won. Then they defeated 15-seed Middle Tennessee State in the second round after the Blue Raiders upset mighty Michigan State (a turn of events that proved SU was so toxic that losing to them could turn you from a contender into a pretender in an instant).
Syracuse’s destruction of everyone’s bracket wasn’t done as they spent the following weekend dispatching perennial dream-chasers Gonzaga and Virginia, beating the latter with an epic 15-point comeback that defied all logic.
With that, Syracuse returned to the Final Four just one year removed from being hit with what some considered program-killing sanctions. Not only did Syracuse’s miracle run crush the hopes and dreams of Zags and Hoos everywhere, but they laid bare the NCAA’s ineffectiveness once and for all. The sport’s governing body didn’t hurt Syracuse in the way it was intended; it merely forced the program to adapt and become something new.
That new thing feels wrong to everyone else and makes Syracuse fans feel as though they have to apologize for any success their school has, but no one is taking away the school’s sixth Final Four banner anytime soon.
It’s like Dan Dakich said when Syracuse made the NCAA Tournament in 2016:
Syracuse!! Once again in College Hoops..you break rules..you get rewarded!
— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) March 13, 2016
Yes, Dan. And what is anyone going to do about it? The system exists and Syracuse has spent the last four years maneuvering it, checking for weaknesses, and exploiting them. Often times, they don’t even do anything, they simply show up and let others (the selection committee) do the work for them.
“The system is rigged in favor of schools like Syracuse.”
Of course it is! Haven’t you been paying attention? There’s no doubt that the governing bodies of college sports favor major conference schools. And Syracuse is more than happy to step into that space and exploit it because if they don’t, someone else will. That’s not Syracuse imposing its will, that’s Syracuse trolling the NCAA by being Syracuse.
“Syracuse only got in because of name recognition.”
Maybe! In spite of everything they say, do you actually believe the NCAA and its many arms actually have scruples? Do you honestly believe that the selection committee’s decisions are pure and without bias? Is it within the realm of possibility that the committee chose Syracuse over USC and Oklahoma State because the latter two are wrapped up in the ongoing FBI drama? (Of course, the idea that Syracuse, of all schools, would benefit from the infractions committed by others, would just be too delicious of a troll job to be real… right?)
“What a clown show.”
That’s what Syracuse is trying to show you. It IS a clown show! It’s all smoke and mirrors. All of these decisions and selections and opportunities, they’re all steeped in backroom dealings, TV deals, and other muck you don’t want to know about. If you don’t know that by now, Syracuse will just keep trolling you until you do.
Don’t hate the unpaid players, hate the game.
In the years since, schools like North Carolina and Louisville and Ole Miss have used Syracuse’s strategy to do the same thing. Syracuse was merely trying to limit the damage to itself, but in doing so proved the limits of what anyone can really do to take down a major college basketball program (short of FBI stings, of course). SU wasn’t just surviving, it was rubbing everyone’s nose in it. And the last person in the world who was going to apologize for any of this was Jim Boeheim.
During the 2016-17 season, the Orange once again flirted with mediocrity. Boeheim cobbled together a lineup out of two grad transfers (John Gillon, Andrew White), a freshman phenom (Tyus Battle), and a two-and-done in the making (Tyler Lydon). Once again, Syracuse stayed within striking distance of the bubble for much of the season, though this time they fell short. For a brief time, all was “correct” in the college basketball world once more.
In 2017-18, Boeheim once again strung together a bunch of spare parts and made something happen. Injuries plagued the squad all season long and talent could only do so much. So when the Orange entered the ACC Tournament with a 19-12 record, they were once again straddling the line. Very few people wanted to see them cross that line, and yet they didn’t go away gently, winning one more game before their regular season came to an end. By most accounts, they were headed back to the NIT.
That feeling when you’re going dancing pic.twitter.com/VaGEPR2qaR
— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) March 11, 2018
And somehow, they’re headed to the NCAA Tournament instead. Their 11-seed was a shock to just about everyone, including many Orange fans. The selection committee easily could have kept SU out and avoided drama, but for whatever reason you think, they didn’t. Once more, the critics were incensed. Gottlieb called Syracuse’s inclusion “laughable.” Rob Dauster told Syracuse fans, “I just don’t get the argument for this one.” Yahoo! Sports’ Brad Evans called the selection a “travesty” while CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander found it to be “baffling.”
Once more, Syracuse enters the tournament as the team everyone hates. They’re the team everyone wants to see get blown out by 30 points in order to prove just how unworthy they were of the selection. They want Jim Boeheim, Syracuse fans, and the selection committee to know that, in the words of a fictitious President, you are wrong, so just sit there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.
Maybe that’ll happen. Maybe Arizona State will dispatch with the Orange in Dayton on Wednesday and that will be that. All will be right in the universe once more and everyone can take their well-earned shot at Boeheim’s expense on Twitter and feel better about themselves.
But then again, maybe not. Given the way Syracuse has grabbed the mantle of unlikability and worn it like a suit of armor, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Orange will win Wednesday, win again on Friday and, sweet Jesus, who knows what horrors await after that. If Boeheim somehow “steals” a Sweet Sixteen spot once again, it might rip a hole in the space-time continuum (or, at least, Doug Gottlieb’s brain).
Because Syracuse has spent the last three years trolling college basketball. All of it. The NCAA. College basketball experts. Bracketologists. Other ACC fans. College basketball fans. March Madness. “The right way to play the game.” By many objective measures, the Orange were not supposed to be here in 2016 and they’re not supposed to be here now.
Jim Boeheim built his reputation on taking teams that deserved success to the Tournament. Now, he’s finding success with teams that, in theory, don’t deserve it. That’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow. It’s not right. It’s not fair.
As far as the Syracuse basketball team and it’s fanbase are concerned, they know how everyone feels about all of this. And quite simply, they don’t care. That’s what trolls do.