It will be interesting to see how good this squad becomes. They were definitely an overrated team early in the year (to quote a Hall of Fame coach we all are quite familiar with!), and they managed to stay unbeaten in spite of themselves. The team started to gel, and now has impressive runaway wins over Michigan State, and Big East foes Providence and Notre Dame.
This years squad is definitely a versatile group of players, with a deeper than usual bench filling in for different roles. Now that James Southerland has the confidence in his perimeter shot and has shown some spots of inspired defense, the missing pieces of the squad are starting to get filled in. I would still like to see Scoop Jardine pass the ball more often and be a little more careful with it, despite his nine assists the last game. Better defense from Dion Waiters would be great (though he is improving), and a good 20 minute effort in some game, any game, by Fab Melo would really inspire me. The fact that Kris Joseph is hitting his 3's is very encouraging for the long term progress of this team.
But they team is playing shutdown defense like they did last year, and quickly converting to their transition game for easy baskets. And the team is crashing the board very well, something that has not always been a trademark of Syracuse teams. I think the top squads like Pitt and UConn will give the Orange a real test because they are so familiar with our zone defense and don’t typically get rattled, but I do like how this team is playing.
15-0 is very tough, as evidenced by the exclusive five member club. Last year’s team, which I think was much better than this year’s team, only went 13-0 before losing their first game. And I thought last year’s team had an excellent chance of winning the National Championship before the Arinze Onuaku injury finally came to hurt them in the Butler game.
So, how have the other four 15-0 teams finished?
The 1999-2000 squad was the last team to start 15-0, and they started off the season 19-0, a school record for most wins to start a season. This wasn’t the best team in Syracuse history, but like this year’s squad, was an outstanding defensive team. Etan Thomas, two time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, anchored the middle of the defense. Add in Jason Hart to harass the opposing guards and Ryan Blackwell to guard the post players, and it was a tough team to score on. The team would end up 26-6, winning the Big East regular season championship, and losing in the Sweet Sixteen.
1986-1987 team unexpectedly started 15-0 behind an unknown point guard named Sherman Douglas. The team had lost Pearl Washington, Rafael Addison, and Wendell Alexis from the year before, so expectations were not high. This team finished 31-7, as the Big East regular season champions. Douglas, along with Rony Seikaly, Derek Coleman, Howard Triche and Greg Monroe would make an impressive run through the NCAA tournament, only to lose to in the National Championship game to the Indiana Hoosiers.
The 1925-1926 team was led by the Three Musketeers: All-American junior Vic Hanson, and his 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 1917-1918 team was the first one to start out 15-0, and they went to 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. Penn would score only 2 points from the floor, the rest 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 was only 5 of 13. The Orangemen were still awarded the National Championship by the Helms Foundation for their outstanding 16-1 record.
All five of these teams were outstanding defensive teams with strong rebounders and excellent guard play. Let’s see how far the 2010-2011 edition can go.