|2015-2016 Syracuse Orange|
|NCAA FINAL FOUR||Schedule Results|
Coach: Jim Boeheim / Mike Hopkins
Orange fans knew it would be a tough season even before it began. The NCAA sanctions had restricted the team to having only ten scholarship players, and head coach Jim Boeheim was going to be suspended for the first nine games of the ACC schedule. Topping that off, one of the Orange’s top recruits Moustapha Diagne was rule academically ineligible to attend Syracuse in August, reducing the number of players on scholarship by one.
Rakeem Christmas had graduated, and the Orange would need to replace his offensive and defensive contributions. The team needed oft-injured DaJuan Coleman to recover from his injuries, forward Tyler Roberson to take a big step forward, and a couple of freshman, Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson, to contribute immediately. The glue to the team would be the backcourt duo of fifth year seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
The season started out surprisingly well with the Orange winning the Battle of Atlantis tournament. The tournament included impressive wins against a ranked UConn team and a ranked Texas A&M squad. The Orange displayed strong defense, as usual, and surprisingly some very strong shooting efforts from the entire team. The strong performance in the Bahamas propelled the team to #14 in the rankings.
The team would return back home and face the Wisconsin Badgers. The Orange had a late lead in the game, but failed to hold on to it as the Badgers rallied. The game would go into overtime, and the Badgers would win 66-58.
Syracuse then received word from the NCAA that Jim Boeheim’s suspension would start immediately in 48 hours, instead of the start of the ACC season. While this decision did provide some benefit to the Orange during the ACC, the short notice left the team with a small window to prepare for life without Boeheim. Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins would take over the team for the next nine games.
Hopkins’ first game as head coach was on the road against Georgetown. The Orange struggled in the game, and the Hoyas manhandled the team on the court, winning 79-72.
It was clear by this point of the season that Gbinije was the leader of the team, and by far its best scorer. Lydon was surprising people with how well he was playing, and he actually spent a lot of time at center, a position he was undersized for. Lydon was bringing a strong element of hustle and a very nice perimeter shot to the team. However, the rest of the team was struggling offensively. Roberson was inconsistent with his effort, mixing strong rebounding efforts with weak ones. Coleman was still slow on the court, Cooney was missing his shots, and Richardson was struggling to learn the zone defense.
The team would easily beat Colgate to give Hopkins his first career win before traveling down the Madison Square Garden to play St. John’s. Syracuse played a horrible game, full of turnovers, missed shots and poor rebounding, as the vastly underdog Red Storm easily won the game 84-72.
The Orange would win its next three games before ACC play started. The team played hard, but struggled a bit on defense, and lost its first three games of ACC play. The Orange went into overtime against Clemson, before losing 74-73.
Boeheim would return as head coach for the North Carolina game. The Tar Heels were ranked #6 in the country and despite 27 points from Cooney, the Orange would lose easily.
Roberson started to play aggressive and the Orange would have a couple of easy wins over Boston College and Wake Forest, before heading down to play the Duke Blue Devils. Roberson would help lead the team to a close 64-62 victory with a career high 20 rebounds.
The Orange would lose to #13 Virginia in Charlottesville before putting together a modest five game winning streak. Cooney would show that he once again was an Irish killer leading the Orange to a win over #25 Notre Dame.
The Orange would then close out the regular season losing four of the last five games. The only win in that stretch was a 75-66 win over North Carolina State at the Carrier Dome on senior night. Gbinije would have a career high 34 points leading the team to victory, making eight of thirteen three point shots.
Syracuse would limp into the ACC tournament, and lose a close first round game to Pittsburgh 72-71. Fans were nervous if the Orange had put together a good enough resume to make the NCAA tournament. The NCAA committee did put the Orange into the tournament as a #10 seed, despite the complaints of many other fans who thought other teams were more deserving.
The Orange would pull of the upset easily dispatch of #7 seed Dayton in the first round of the NCAA tournament, winning 70-51 behind Roberson’s 18 rebounds and Richardson’s 21 points. The second round opponent was Middle Tennessee State, who had had upset #2 seed Michigan State to advance. There was a lot of hype that the Blue Raiders would also upset the Orange, but Syracuse easily beat them 75-50 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Syracuse would meet another upset team in Gonzaga. Both teams were low seeds having pulled two upsets each to get to the game. Gonzaga jumped to an earlier 11 point lead, but the Orange cut it back to a close margin. Michael Gbinije's offensive rebound and basket on his own missed shot with 22 seconds to go put the Orange up by one. Trevor Cooney made a great steal with under ten seconds to go that should have sealed the win. However officials incorrectly ruled that Cooney had stepped out of bounds, and gave the ball back to Gonzaga. Tyler Lydon's block with 1.6 seconds left, followed by his getting fouled and making two free throws sealed the win as the Orange moved on to the Elite Eight.
The Orange would next meet #4 ranked Virginia in the Elite Eight. The Cavaliers had been the Syracuse’s nemesis since the Orange joined the ACC, with Syracuse losing all three games against them, primarily due to Virginia’s stifling defensive style. The first half of the game looked to be the same as the three previous games, with Virginia leading at the half 35-21. The Orange trailed 56-43 with about ten minutes to go in the game, when Syracuse switched out of its zone and into full court pressure. The Orange would force several turnovers from the Cavaliers, and Malachi Richardson, who had been cold in the first half, would take over offensively scoring 14 points during the Orange 21-2 run. The Orange would lead 64-58 with two minutes to go in the game, and hold on to win 68-62. Syracuse would advance to the Final Four, the sixth time in school history.
Another familiar foe awaited the Orange in the Final Four with #3 ranked North Carolina. The Tar Heels would overmatch Syracuse and the Cinderella-run would end.
Syracuse fans celebrated a season that had been a wild roller coaster ride of emotions, and finished on a highly improbably NCAA tournament run.
© RLYoung 2015-2016