Then: Heading into the game against George Washington on Dec. 10, 2011, SU was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the polls. The same night, the Kentucky Wildcats were No. 1 and facing the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.
After the Orange knocked off GW 85-50, the Hoosiers hit a buzzer-beater three-pointer to defeat the Wildcats, bumping Syracuse to No. 1 and Kentucky dropping to No. 2.
Syracuse won its next 10 games until the game against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where sophomore center Fab Melo was suspended for academic purposes.
The Orange lost 67-58 to the Fighting Irish and it ended its run as the top team in the country.
Big deal? Sure was. Syracuse dropped to No. 4 in the rankings and after wins against Cincinnati and West Virginia, both in which Melo was absent, the Orange was back at No. 2 when the 7-foot Brazilian center returned on Feb. 4 against St. John’s.
A 30-1 regular season record gave Jim Boeheim and his boys a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, Melo was once again ruled out due to academic ineligibility.
With Melo, Syracuse was a heavy favorite to win the title, or to at least make it to the championship game. Without Melo, the No. 1 Orange nearly lost to No. 16 UNC-Asheville in the first round.
Syracuse was going to lose in the tournament, it was just a matter of in which round and against which team. The Orange sent No. 16 UNC-Asheville, No. 8 Kansas State and No. 4 Wisconsin packing, but Jared Sullinger and No. 2 Ohio State ended Syracuse’s best season since it won the championship in 2003.
Just like that, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph’s services expired. Many questioned the 2012-2013 status of Dion Waiters and Melo, pondering if they would remain in the 315 or enter the NBA Draft.
In the end, Melo, Joseph and Sullinger are playing together in Boston, the site of where Syracuse’s magical season ended courtesy of Sullinger’s college team. Waiters is in Cleveland.
Syracuse lost valuable members of last season’s team, primarily the reason for the lower preseason ranking. Waiters had the ability to drive to the basket in clutch situations and even hit the three-pointer to send the Carrier Dome crowd into a roar. He was arguably the best shooting guard in the country. That is why he was a top five overall pick in the draft.
Now: Guard Trevor Cooney was redshirted last season, but with the loss of Waiters, he will have his chance to come off the bench for Boeheim and knock down three pointers, his known talent. This season will be his first season playing for the Orange. We might not see his true talent until late in the season, as it will take him time to learn the style and competitiveness of collegiate play.
Very few 6-foot-8 forwards can shoot a three-pointer and be the go-to man for a clutch behind-the-arch jumper. Joseph provided that for the Orange. Syracuse was a shooting team with Joseph, but with the addition of DaJuan Colman and the likely starting role that junior C.J. Fair will take, the Orange will gain more depth and strength in the paint - a big difference from last year.
Sophomore Rakeem Christmas was in Boeheim’s starting lineup last season, but rarely stayed in the game for longer than the first few minutes of the first half. He, along with junior big man Baye Keita, will assume the majority of the center role. Many believe Keita will be Boeheim’s big man heading into the season.
Syracuse is in a situation no different from last year. The key players from last year’s team are gone and the ranking is a few points lower. From this moment on, #OrangeNation is relying on the young studs of this team to fill in the holes left by Jardine, Joseph, Melo and Waiters. With Carter-Williams most likely starting at point guard, he'll give the Orange a height advantage at 6-foot-5. Christmas has one year of NCAA play under his belt and should be more prepared mentally and physically for the challenges he will face.
It is all up to the young players, who will have to help the Orange get off to a strong start and keep that type of play and competition throughout the season.
The No. 9 ranking doesn’t mean anything. It’s an opinion of the media and is no reflection of the team’s talent. Like we saw last year, Boeheim and his assistants have the ability to make young players step up and lead the team.
Remember 2003? Syracuse won the championship behind Carmelo Anthony, a freshman at the time. Last season, two of the three draft picks from Syracuse were sophomores; Waiters and Melo.
Boeheim knows how to make young players superstars. It’s hard to know which young talent (Cooney, Carter-Williams, Christmas, Grant, Coleman) will be the standout player because with Syracuse basketball, there is no such thing as one player being a star. The entire team works together to achieve greatness.