Realistically, the Orange are not going to go the season undefeated. That would require them to go 39-0 (thirty regular season, three Big East, and six NCAA games). No NCAA team has gone undefeated since the Indiana Hoosier in 1976. UNLV was the last school to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated, going 34-0 in 1991 before losing in the national semi-finals. A team could go undefeated, but this Syracuse squad isn’t that team.
So, how far can the Orange go undefeated this season? Wichita State (game 8) and Oklahoma State (game 9) are the likeliest teams to beat the Orange prior to Big East play. Any team could do it; upsets occur, which is another reason why going 39-0 isn’t going to happen.
In the history of Syracuse basketball, 15 different squads have started off their season 10-0 or better:
The 1999-2000 squad started off the season 19-0, a school record for most wins to start a season; they are also the last team to start out 10-0 or better. This wasn’t the best team in Syracuse history, but definitely one of the best defensive teams the Hill has ever seen. Etan Thomas, two time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, anchored the middle of the defense. Jason Hart was a defensive dynamo at the point, and Ryan Blackwell was a solid defender of the big forwards. The team would end up 26-6, winning the Big East regular season championship, and losing in the Sweet Sixteen.
The 1997-1998 team started off 11-0 led by senior Todd Burgan, and finished 26-9.
1995-1996 started 11-0, and finished 29-9. Led by senior John Wallace, the team would lose to the Kentucky Wildcats in the National Championship game.
From the 1985-1986 season to the 1991-1992 season, the Orangemen had six seasons out of seven where they started out 10-0 or better. An amazing run.
1991-1992 started 10-0 led by Dave Johnson and Lawrence Moten, finished 22-10, and were the Big East Tournament Champions.
1990-1991 started 13-0 led by Billy Owens, finished 26-6 as the Big East regular season champions, before bowing out very quickly in the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
1989-1990 started 10-0 with Stevie Thompson, Derek Coleman and Owens, finished 26-7.
1988-1989 started 13-0 with Sherman Douglas, Thompson, Coleman and Owens, finished 30-8.
1986-1987 started 15-0, finished 31-7, as the Big East regular season champions. Led by Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, and Derek Coleman, they would make an impressive run through the NCAA tournament, only to lose to in the National Championship game to the Indiana Hoosiers.
The 1985-1986 squad behind the Pearl started 13-0, finished 26-6 as the Big East regular season champions.
The 1982-1983 squad with the senior tri-captains of Leo Rautins, Tony Bruin and Erich Santifer started 11-0, finished 21-10.
The 1979-1980 edition of the Bouie N’ Louie Show started 14-0, and finished 26-4.
Then we have to go back 54 years to find the last Orangemen team to start out so well, and a special squad it would be.
The 1925-1926 team behind junior All-American Vic Hanson, and fellow classmates Charlie Lee and Gotch Carr would start out 15-0. They would lose their first (and only game) on February 24th at Penn State 37-31. A few weeks later they would play the Nittany Lions again, easily beating them 29-12 to revenge the victory. The squad was awarded the National Championship by the Helms Foundation for their 19-1 season.
The 1924-1925 squad, also lead by Hanson, Lee & Carr, started off 11-0, and finished 14-2, their only two losses by a combined 5 points.
The 1917-1918 team started off 16-0 behind All-Americans Joe Schwarzer and Bob Marcus. The team was a dominant defensive presence, and would enter the last game of the season undefeated. In a very physical game, Penn would beat the Orangemen 17-16. All of Penn’s points but two were from the free throw line, as Penn’s Sweeney went 15-16 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Syracuse’s Schwarzer, normally an excellent free throw shooter, went 5-13 from the charity stripe. The Orangemen were still awarded the National Championship for their outstanding 16-1 record.
Which brings us to the first Syracuse team to start the season 10-0. The 1913-1914 squad was led by All-American Lew Castle at center. Fellow senior Dutch Notman was a good scoring forward to compliment Castle. Sophomore Elmer Keib and freshman Wilbur Crisp would join the starting the lineup; both would eventually be significant scorers for Syracuse, and in this particular season they would be excellent supporting cast. And junior Dick Seymour, returned at guard to run the offense and lead the defensive efforts. They had a schedule that would make Dick Vitale scream, as they played 10 of their 12 games at home.
The Orangemen would win their first two games handily, before playing Pittsburgh. And luck would shine the Orangemen’s way that day. As time was expiring, Pitt was leading 28-27. Pitt’s Coach Flint would attempt to substitute a player with sixteen seconds left in the game, without calling a timeout (which they could not do having used up all their time outs). This resulted in a technical foul and a free throw for the Orangemen. Castle would miss the free throw! But a Pitt player had stepped into the free throw lane for a violation, so Castle got another opportunity. This time he did not miss, and the game ended in a tie. In the overtime period, the Orangemen would dominate the play, outscoring the Panthers 8-1 to win the game.
Two games later the Orangemen would travel to Hamilton NY to play the Colgate Maroons. The game was tied 26-26 at the end of regulation. The teams played an overtime period, and neither team scored, leaving the score at 26-26. In the second overtime period, the two teams traded baskets making it 28-28. Syracuse then was fouled and made a free throw to lead 29-28. As time was expiring, there was frantic action under the Syracuse basket, and a Maroon player put up a shot and made the basket. However, the Hamilton based official ruled that time had expired before the shot was taken, and Syracuse won.
The Orangemen would not have another serious challenge that season. On March 11, 1914, they would beat the Dartmouth Green 29-18 to finish the season 12-0, thus completing the first (and only) undefeated season in Syracuse basketball history. They did not win the National Championship, as there was no post season action, and Wisconsin’s 15-0 squad was deemed to be a better team.
So perfection is possible, but not probable. You need talent, decent scheduling, and some good luck. And until the team loses, you can always dream. So let’s see how far Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf, Terrence Roberts, Mookie Watkins and Demetris Nichols can take us this year.