Syracuse sports fans will gather round their screens and hope for the best tonight.
The Orange men’s basketball team will trot onto the court at Boston College and try very hard not to fall to 0-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
That 0-4 start is not good news here in the heart of upstate New York, where much of the civic pride in this university city is based upon the success of the sports teams.
Particularly, the basketball team coached by Jim Boeheim, the hall-of-famer who is synonymous with Syracuse sports success since he drove the 50 or so miles east from his hometown of Lyons, laced on his sneakers and became the freshman squad teammate of a guy who went on a pretty fair amount of fame himself, on-court in college and then in the NBA and then far beyond. Boeheim is a forever buddy of Dave Bing, recently Mayor of Detroit. Boeheim could be Mayor of Syracuse, some would say.
But this season, at the age of 71, has been unlike any since he took over as Orange head coach in 1976 following seven seasons as a Syracuse assistant.
Boeheim had to sit out a nine-game suspension imposed by the NCAA after it found him culpable for a lack of oversight following a long investigation that ended with findings of academic improprieties by others under his watch and penalties that also includes loss of future scholarships and forfeiture of past victories during that time period.
He was allowed no contact with the program during that time. He couldn’t go to games or practices, or even talk to his replacement, former Orange player, longtime assistant and already announced coach-come-retirement down the line, Mike Hopkins.
It was painful for Boeheim, as he told Syracuse on his weekly radio show. For Hopkins, as he told the press after the Orange lost non-league games to former Big East rivals Georgetown, in Hopkins’ first game taking over, and then St. John’s.
And it hard to watch for the fans, as this thin Syracuse team, which had started 7-0 under Boeheim, went 4-5 without him.
There was big hope as 26,811 fans came out in the Carrier Dome on Saturday night to watch Boeheim’s return to lead Syracuse against the ACC’s top team, sixth-rated North Carolina.
And wouldn’t you know it, those six Orange players shouldering the load this season did all they could for their proud coach and program. Trevor Cooney hit 5-of-12 3-pointers, and Malachi Richardson was even better percentage-wise from beyond the arc with 4-of-10. Big guys Tyler Roberson and Dajuan Coleman battled the Tar Heels hard on the boards with seven rebounds each, and Roberson added 13 points, too. Freshman Tyler Lydon continued to look so intelligent out there. Alas, leader Michael Gbinije had his worst game of the season, missing all six of his 3-point attempts. All 10 of his points came late, many after the Orange once again ran out of gas in the last two minutes. North Carolina won going away, 84-73, after Syracuse had led 58-57, sending the Dome into a tizzy when Coleman dunked for two of his five points with 6:50 left.
This 0-4 start equals the winless league streak in the Big East back in the 1996-97 season, my friend Mike Waters wrote in his story Sunday in The Syracuse Post-Standard. That team, he wrote, battled back to finish the league season at 9-9.
To finish this ACC season at .500 would be one heck of a comeback. The unbalanced league schedule is against them. At Duke. At Virginia. At Louisville. The city would go nuts.
To what do you think your area’s pride is attached most, and why? Have you seen a comeback awarded or thwarted lately, and what were the circumstances? Do you think Jim Boeheim can help improve this team’s fortunes?