28 March 2016

The 2016 NCAA Tournament has given us Jim Boeheim's best coaching job

(AP Photo)
Of all the years for Jim Boeheim to have his finest coaching season, this year did not seem like a likely candidate. After all, Boeheim was going to be suspended for the first nine games of ACC play due to some pretty notable violations. Then it didn't seem likely when the Orange lost their first four games in conference play, under interim (and soon to be future) coach Mike Hopkins. Then they lost four of their last five in the regular season before going one and done in the ACC Tournament in Washington. And you wonder why it was a major surprise to many (including myself) that they even got into the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Yet after all of that, the Syracuse Orange are headed to Houston for the Final Four. And that is a testament to a brilliant coaching job from one Jim Boeheim.
Of course, maybe we shouldn't go overboard with Boeheim. After all he is, for lack of a better word, a scumbag. A guy that probably shouldn't have his job considering all the shenanigans that went on under his nose that got the Orange under the microscope of the NCAA and led to the aforementioned suspension as well as your usual loss of scholarships and vacation of wins.

But the reason why he still has his job and the reason why the Orange are going to the Final Four: Boeheim is a great coach. As we all know, coaching makes a difference in March. It why guys like Tom Izzo (generally) have deep runs while guys like Scott Drew (generally) don't make it out of the first weekend.

And let's be honest, this Syracuse team simply isn't that good. Michael Gbinije is a solid player but he'll be lucky to crack the first round of the NBA Draft. Beyond that, they have some solid contributors like Trevor Cooney, Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson but all in all, that's not exactly a dangerous club. Compare this club to Boeheim's previous Final Four teams in 1987, 1996, the champions in 2003 and 2013 and the talent level really isn't all that close.

The naysayer could argue that Syracuse did get lucky in that they only face double-digit seeded teams before Virginia, and only beat Virginia and Gonzaga before them after they collapsed. That also wouldn't be fair because it's not their fault that Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State, that Gonzaga team had just blown out quality teams in Seton Hall and Utah and Virginia was a heck of a ballclub. It took a great coaching adjustment by Boeheim to utilize the full court press which led to the UVA meltdown and an explosion by Richardson to spur the wild comeback.

It feels odd to label a team like Syracuse as a Cinderella because after all, they are a consistent power in the sport. But they also are only the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four and we all remember how the last team to do so, VCU in 2011, was also a club that had no business being in the Tournament. Interestingly enough, they have tied the record for team with the most losses to make the Final Four with 13 (joining North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2000). Considering they are one of the most surprising teams ever to make the Final Four, I'd call them a Cinderella.

And so now the big question, can Syracuse actually win it all next week in Houston? It still seems improbable, especially considering they've got a North Carolina team that looks really tough to beat on Saturday and should they get by them, they've got dangerous clubs in either Oklahoma or Villanova in the National Championship. But considering all the insanity that has already occurred this March, and with the able pilot leading the charge in Boeheim, why not?

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