What should we make of Syracuse?
Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach, has been since 2005. He’s been at Syracuse, with the exception of just a few years after he graduated, since 1962.
That’s really extraordinary. How many people have been at the same place for 59 years? We think we can give him the three years he spent playing professionally with the Scranton Miners of the old ECBL. Clearly his heart has always been with Syracuse.
He’s racked up 982 wins, second only to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, and if you added the 101 that the NCAA took away, he’d be just the second D-1 coach to top 1000, something he might do by the end of this season anyway.
But there’s no getting away from this: Boeheim is 76, and he’ll turn 77 in November. And since joining the ACC with a bang in 2013-14 with a 28-6 record, Syracuse has topped 20 wins just twice. Here’s his year-by-year record in the ACC:
Note: that 19-9 is from 2015-16 and Boeheim was forced to sit out the first nine games. That’s his personal record; Syracuse finished 23-14.
And while the ACC is a different animal than was the old Big East in many respects, Boeheim was highly competitive in that very tough league and has been much less so in this one.
Part of it is what we talked about recently, that most coaches careers tend to tail off near the end.
Boeheim is not what he used to be, but he’s still a tough out. The ACC has mostly learned how to deal with his famed 2-3 zone (which also isn’t as tough as it used to be) but in the post-season it’s a nightmare for teams that haven’t faced it and it gives Syracuse a puncher’s chance against anyone.
The other part of it is that the talent just isn’t what it used to be.
Consider who departed after last season.
- Alan Griffin
- Quincy Guerrier
- Marek Dolezaj
- Kadary Richmond
Alan Griffin’s brother AJ is now a Blue Devil and a possible lottery pick next summer. Alan left early and is a marginal NBA prospect at best. Guerrier is off to Oregon but is he a sure fire NBA prospect? No. Dolezaj is 6-10. He’s a nifty player but he never topped 210 lbs. and is most famous for having the guts to try to draw a charge on Zion Williamson. Gutty but frail, he’ll play in Europe. And Richmond left for Seton Hall but he, too, is no sure NBA prospect. How many transfers are?
There’s not a Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens or Pearl Washington in the bunch - but those are major losses, and that underscores Syracuse’s decline.
What’s he got to work with?
- Buddy Boeheim 6-6 senior
- Joe Girard, 6-1 junior
- Jesse Edwards 6-11 junior
- Bourama Sibide 6-10 grad student
- Frank Anselem 6-10 sophomore
- John Bol Ajak 6-10 sophomore
- Chaz Owens 6-5 sophomore
Jim’s son, Buddy, has turned into a major star. He went nuts in the postseason last spring, lighting up NC State for 27 in the ACC Tournament, then putting up 31 on Virginia, then 30 against San Diego State and 25 against West Virginia before Houston finally harassed him into a 3-13 outing for just 12 points. He’s a superb offensive talent but not hugely athletic.
Girard? He’s been erratic. He shot just 35.5 percent overall and 33.3 percent from behind the line. And while 78 percent isn’t bad for free throws for most players, Girard shot nearly 90 percent from the stripe as a freshman.
This is a guy who shattered Lance Stephenson’s New York state scoring record of 2,946 points by an astounding 1,817 points for a total of 4,763 points. That’s nearly beyond imagining.
So he’s started and been a major factor but is it fair to call him a disappointment?
He averaged 50 ppg as a high school junior and nearly as much as a senior.
Last year he averaged 9.8 ppg and shot poorly. He had his moments, to be sure, but has he lived up to the hype?
No, and it’s not even close.
Of the other returnees, Jesse Edwards had his moments too but not enough. Sibide, Anselem and Ajak barely saw the court. Sibide was a rotation player in 2019-20 but injuries limited him to two games last year. The other guys are younger but haven’t proven anything yet.
And Owens? He’s Billy’s kid but only saw two minutes all last season.
- Jimmy Boeheim 6-9 grad student
- Symir Torrence 6-3 Marquette
- Cole Swider 6-9 senior Villanova
The second Boeheim on the roster was a solid player at Cornell but the Ivy League shut down last season due to the pandemic and what better place for him than Boeheim U?
He’s not as talented as his brother but he’s a coach’s kid, a decent shooter and with good fundamentals. Jury’s still out but he could become a factor.
Torrence didn't excel at Marquette but he’s talented and should contribute, perhaps a lot. Who can’t use a second point guard? And Swider wasn’t bad at Villanova but he certainly wasn’t great. He did shoot well, hitting 40.2 percent from behind the line. He can probably hide in Boeheim's zone on defense too if necessary.
- Benny Williams 6-8
- Niko Ruffin 5-10
Quite a contrast here: Williams is a highly promising talent, a guy celebrated for his basketball IQ as much as his physical gifts. Barring injury, he’s going to play and probably excel.
We can’t find much about him at all. Even his Syracuse bio is empty. He appears to be best known as the son of Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin, who was a member of Dru Hill and is also a producer. Everything about him suggests he’s a walk-on but we can’t find anything to prove that.
So what do we make of this team?
Even Boeheim says it’s going to be slow but the zone should still be effective and he’s got a bunch of shooters. And all of those big guys who haven’t done much can still defend near the basket.
No one in the ACC, probably no one in the country, has a bond with his school and fans like Boeheim does with Syracuse, but even they would have to admit that the program is on the decline.
His boys will be done soon (by the way their cousin, Nick Giancola, is a walk-on) and as Barry suggested the other day, that would be a logical time for him to leave too, assuming he stays that long.
The real question then is this: who will Syracuse turn to to replace the legendary head coach? And when?