|Posted on March 15, 2017 at 7:25 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
No, this is not what they wanted.
Graduate transfers guard/forward Andrew White, III, and John Gillon, III, did not come to Syracuse University for their final year of eligibility in order to compete in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
They came to the Syracuse Orange men's basketball program in hopes of bringing the team back to the NCAA Tournament and elevate to the highest level.
The stage had been set when Orange head coach Jim Boeheim called this one of his deeper teams.
But, Boeheim also addressed that he had to re-teach White and Gillon because they had never played in his system before.
There were inevitable growing pains that Syracuse fans are not used to going through.
The last graduate players the Orange had were Mike Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, two individuals who had been in the program for years, with ample time to learn what is expected.
To take a squad that lost Gbinije and Cooney back to the Final Four would mean that Syracuse would have to have a very small learning curve that was barely felt, something that is darn near impossible.
Despite beginning 4-0 to start the 2016-17 season, the Orange struggled with competition from the Power 5 conferences, when they faced the South Carolina Gamecocks (SEC) and the Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten). Add in historic rival, the UConn Huskies (American Athletic), and Syracuse began the season 0-3 away from home.
The first signature win for the Orange did not come until the new year, when they defeated the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, January 28, 2017. This was 22 games into the season.
Syracuse would finish 2-11 away from the Carrier Dome in neutral court and true road games combined for the 2016-17 campaign, including their loss in their first game inside the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament versus the Miami Hurricanes in the second round, on location in Brooklyn, New York, in the Barclays Center.
The growing curve has proven to be a lot longer to navigate this 'Cuse car around, when you couple newcomers from other programs with two true freshmen and your "veteran" on the starting lineup coming off of their true freshman season a year ago.
Syracuse has been going through the adversity of getting to know one another, the 2-3 zone the way Boeheim wants it run, and the toughest conference in college basketball all after meeting each other just a short while ago.
With that being said, a trip to the NIT, although not the preseason goal, allows Orange true freshmen, guard Tyus Battle and forward/center Taurean Thompson, more time to grow, while giving sophomore forward/center Tyler Lydon more experience at the collegiate level from two different perspectives when looking at his role in 2015-16 and his role in 2016-17.
For White and Gillon, it has been a fresh start, and they have made a better impression from their play at Syracuse than anywhere else they have been. Gillon has scored in double-figures in 16 contests, including a 43-point performance in one of a mere two road contests that ended in a win, when Gillon forced overtime by scoring the final 20 points of the game for the Orange against the N.C. State Wolfpack. White and Gillon would attain all 13 of the overtime points for Syracuse en route to a seven-point victory. Gillon went 9-for-10 from beyond the arc in that contest.
Later in the regular season, Gillon would go 9-for-14 from the field versus the top-10 ranked Duke Blue Devils including the game-winning three-pointer from straight on to take the game 75-72.
White attained his 1,000-career point mark while a member of the Orange, after first playing for the Kansas Jayhawks (Big 12) and then the Nebraska Cornhuskers (Big Ten).
With his 108th three-pointer coming versus the UNC-Greensboro Spartans during the first round of the NIT, White passed the record set by former Syracuse player, current assistant coach Gerry McNamara, when McNamara connected on 107 of his three-point attempts in the 2004-05 season.
Between the final regular season game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and first NIT game this postseason versus UNC-Greensboro, White scored 74 points inside the Carrier Dome, 40 against Georgia Tech and 34 versus UNC-Greensboro.
As the most consistent offensive presence for the Orange this season, White has scored in double-figures in 30 of 33 games played, including the NIT win over UNC-Greensboro. In 14 of those contests, White scored 20 or more points.
So, despite not aiding the Orange in returning to the NCAA Tournament, White and Gillon do have something in common with last season's graduate players for Syracuse: Without them on the team, Syracuse would be a lot worse off and not having them for the 2017-18 season will mean that many will have to step up because the void they leave will be noticeable.
As we all know, what we plan to happen does not always come to fruition the way we saw it originally.
But that does not mean that the goal is not achieved in its own right.
White and Gillon came for a new chapter where they could showcase their abilities to truly help a team.
Take White and Gillon off the roster this season and Syracuse does not even make the NIT let alone make it out of the ACC with many, if any positives.
Two players who never crossed paths before ended up crossing out three top-10 foes (Florida State Seminoles, Virginia Cavaliers, and Duke Blue Devils).
They may not have made the NCAA Tournament, but they certainly gave Orange fans moments to dance, and rush the court, for two players that gave them moments to remember, moments too sweet to forget.