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Andy Wittry | | March 8, 2023

Jim Boeheim's 9 best teams at Syracuse, ranked

Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse beat Kansas in the 2003 National Championship

Jim Boeheim has spent 46 seasons as the head coach at Syracuse, spanning all or part of six different decades, and we ranked every single one of the teams he has coached.

To try to make the rankings as objective as possible and to avoid biases of recency or the eventual NBA careers of Syracuse basketball alums, I created a point system to evaluate teams across the six decades of Boeheim's head coaching tenure.

The maximum number of points was 475 — 100 points for non-conference play, 100 points for the conference regular season, 100 points for a team's Simple Rating System (SRS) rating that takes into account point differential and strength of schedule, 25 points for a team's conference tournament finish, 50 points for a team's NCAA tournament seed, and 100 points for a team's NCAA tournament finish. Each Syracuse team's non-conference and conference schedule were evaluated based on winning percentage in order to adjust for the different number of games played in different seasons.

First, a couple of notes:

  • Syracuse was an independent program during Boeheim's first three seasons — although it did play in an end-of-season tournament prior to the NCAA tournament — so those teams were not able to earn as many points as the other 43 teams.
  • The 1979 NCAA tournament marked the first time that every team in the field was seeded, so Boeheim's first two Syracuse teams missed out on potential seeding points.
  • Five Syracuse teams later had wins vacated — the 2005 through 2007 Orange teams, plus the 2011 and 2012 teams — and these teams were not included in this analysis. If the wins were included, only the 2011-12 team would've cracked the top nine in our rankings, at No. 2.
  • Syracuse's 2020 team, which had an 18-14 record (10-10 ACC) when the season was canceled, was not included in a consensus bracket compiled by Bracket Matrix, which compiles dozens of leading bracketologists' projections. The Orange's final game of the season was a second-round win in the ACC tournament over North Carolina.

You can click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet of the calculations and rankings.

Here are Jim Boeheim's nine best teams at Syracuse, ranked.

1. 2002-03

Record: 30-5
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 3 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won the NCAA tournament

It should be no surprise that Syracuse's first and only national championship team in men's basketball ranks as Boeheim's best squad in our rankings. While the Carmelo Anthony-led Orange only received a No. 3 seed — eight of Boeheim's teams have earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed — this group was able to get over the hurdle after Syracuse lost in the national title game in 1987 and 1996.

That's largely because of Anthony, pictured above, who as a freshman was named a consensus second-team All-American after he averaged a double-double with 22.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, both of which led the team. Given the transcendent talent of Anthony alone, a 6-8 forward who shot nearly 50 percent inside the arc while averaging 2.2 assists and 1.6 3-pointers per game, this Syracuse team had a high ceiling, given how one player can dominate a game, but it wasn't overwhelmingly talented, as Anthony was one of just two future NBA players on the Orange's roster, along with the team's second-leading scorer, Hakim Warrick (14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game).

In fact, Syracuse wasn't ranked in the AP poll until Jan. 13, 2003, when it reached No. 25, as it spent the first nine weeks of the season unranked. The Orange never cracked the top 10. After a season-opening loss to Memphis, Syracuse rattled off 11 wins in a row, capped off with a victory over No. 11 Missouri. From February on, this team was almost unbeatable, going 10-1 in its final 11 regular-season games, including wins over No. 2 Pittsburgh and Notre Dame — ranked No. 10 and No. 16 at the time in a pair of Syracuse victories. After bowing out of the Big East tournament semifinals against UConn, Syracuse arrived on Selection Sunday with a 24-5 record, good enough for a No. 3 seed.

The Orange won by 11 and 12 in its first two NCAA tournament games against No. 14 seed Manhattan and No. 6 seed Oklahoma State, before escaping No. 10 seed Auburn, 79-78, in the Sweet 16. Syracuse then beat No. 1 seeds in consecutive games — Oklahoma, 63-47, and Texas, 95-84. Then, Syracuse met No. 2 seed Kansas in the national championship game, where the Orange won by three, 81-78.

Anthony was terrific in the national final, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, with three 3-pointers.

2. 1986-87

Record: 31-7
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the national championship game

It took Jim Boeheim only a matter of months to make his NCAA tournament debut as a head coach, as he got there in the first year of his tenure, and it took just four seasons for the Orange to earn a No. 1 seed for the first time under Boeheim.

But it took a little longer for Boeheim to reach his first Final Four as a head coach. In his 11th season, Boeheim reached the national championship game following a series of close wins — 79-73 over No. 14 seed Georgia Southern, 87-81 over No. 6 seed Florida and 79-75 over No. 1 seed North Carolina — but the Orange's success in close games ran out when Syracuse lost to Indiana, 74-73, on Keith Smart's game-winning jumper.

Below, you can watch the One Shining Moment from the 1987 NCAA tournament.

That Syracuse team had five players who averaged double figures in points per game — Sherman Douglas (17.3 points per game), Rony Seikaly (15.1), Greg Monroe (12.9), Derrick Coleman (11.9) and Howard Triche (11.8). Douglas, Seikaly, Coleman and freshman Stephen Thompson went on to play in the NBA.

In Big East play, Syracuse was one of three teams to finish with a conference-best 12-4 record, along with Georgetown and Pittsburgh.


3. 1988-89

Record: 30-8
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Elite Eight

Two seasons after Syracuse came oh so close to winning the national championship in 1987, some of the same players from the '87 team, including Sherman Douglas (18.2 points per game), Stephen Thompson (18.0; pictured above) and Derrick Coleman (16.9), helped the Orange earn another No. 2 seed and they came a game shy of another Final Four run.

Syracuse started the season ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP poll and quickly made its way to No. 3, and eventually No. 2, after a 12-0 start to the season that included six 100-point performances and back-to-back wins over top-20 Missouri and Indiana teams. In a rigorous Big East, Syracuse then dropped four of its first five conference games before rattling off seven wins in a row and finishing the regular season 24-6 and in third place in the conference, following an overtime win over No. 2 Georgetown.

However, after Syracuse won its first two games in the Big East tournament, the Hoyas got the better of the Orange in the tournament final, 88-79, but Syracuse had still done enough to earn a No. 2 seed. After rolling No. 15 seed Bucknell and No. 10 seed Colorado State, the Orange knocked off No. 3 seed and AP No. 6 Missouri, 83-80, before Syracuse's season came to an end in the Elite Eight. No. 1 seed Illinois escaped Syracuse 89-86 behind Nick Anderson's 24 points and 16 rebounds in a game in which Syracuse's starters scored 84 of the team's 86 points.

4. 1995-96

Record: 29-9
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 4 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the national championship game

Nine years after Syracuse's first national championship game appearance under Boeheim, the Orange returned to the sport's final game, this time against a loaded Kentucky team that won the national title to cap off a 34-2 season fueled by a roster with nine future NBA players. By contrast, Syracuse had just one future NBA player on its roster, senior forward John Wallace, pictured above, who led the Orange in scoring and rebounding at 22.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

The Orange went 10-1 in non-conference play including a road win over No. 3 Arizona, followed by a neutral-court win over No. 12 Illinois, which helped Syracuse peak at No. 11 in the AP poll. However, as was highly possible in the heyday of the previous iteration of the Big East, Syracuse went on a January slide in which it lost three in a row and four out of five — three of the four losses came to teams ranked in the top six of the AP poll — as the once 11-0 Orange found themselves sitting at 14-6. They went 8-1 down the stretch to finish second in their division of the Big East and they won a pair of Big East tournament games before bowing out in the semifinals.

At 24-8 on Selection Sunday, Syracuse earned a top-four seed, as a No. 4 seed, and thanks to No. 8 seed Georgia's second-round upset of No. 1 seed Purdue, Syracuse advanced to the Elite Eight by beating a No. 13, No. 12 and No. 8 seed. The Orange needed overtime to knock off the pesky Bulldogs, then they followed that up with a three-point win over No. 2 seed Kansas, which was ranked No. 4 in the final AP poll of the regular season.

A win over No. 5 seed Mississippi State propelled Syracuse to the national title game, where it lost to Kentucky 76-67, despite Wallace's 29-point, 10-rebound double-double. He and fellow starter Todd Burgan (19 points and eight rebounds) fouled out after committing 11 of Syracuse's 24 turnovers in the game against the talented Wildcats.

5. 2012-13

Record: 30-10
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 4 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Final Four

Syracuse's 2013 squad, which ultimately reached the 30-win mark and took out No. 1 seed Indiana on the way to the Final Four, is Boeheim's most recent team that cracked the top nine in our rankings system. The Orange went 12-1 in the non-conference portion of their schedule, including a 10-0 start to the season, and they won their first six Big East games, highlighted by a road victory over No. 1 Louisville, to improve to 18-1 overall.

That led to one of two weeks during the 2012-13 season in which Syracuse reached No. 3 in the AP poll, after starting at No. 9 in the preseason. All good things must come to an end, and Syracuse's once-perfect Big East record suffered after back-to-back losses on the road to Villanova and Pittsburgh. Things started to unravel at the end of the regular season as Syracuse went on a three-game slide against No. 11 Georgetown, No. 22 Marquette and No. 10 Louisville, and the Orange lost four of their last five to finish 11-7 in the Big East and tied for fifth with Notre Dame.

But a run in the Big East tournament to the tournament final, which came after wins over No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Georgetown, righted the ship, before the Orange fell to the Cardinals by three, Syracuse's second loss to Louisville in a 15-day span.

A 26-9 record on Selection Sunday earned Syracuse a No. 4 seed — one of four top-four seeds coming from the Big East — and after wins over No. 13 seed Montana and No. 12 seed California, the Orange pulled off a massive upset over No. 1 seed Indiana, which featured two of the top four players drafted in that season's NBA draft, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Syracuse then stifled No. 3 seed Marquette in the Elite Eight, 55-39, as the Golden Eagles mustered just 22.6-percent shooting and their starters only made five field goals all game.

But Syracuse fell one game shy of the national championship game as it lost to fellow No. 4 seed Michigan, 61-56.

Lanky guard Michael Carter-Williams, 6-foot-6, earned AP honorable mention All-American honors that season after averaging 11.9 points, 7.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He was also on the All-Big East second team, along with teammate C.J. Fair, who led the team in scoring and rebounding at 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

6. 2009-10

Record: 30-5
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the quarterfinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Sweet 16

Boeheim's Syracuse teams have earned a No. 1 seed on three occasions and this was one of them. The Orange went undefeated in non-conference play, 13-0, and 15-3 in the Big East, which was good for a first-place finish and a two-game lead over Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Villanova. By mid-December, Syracuse had already beaten No. 6 North Carolina, No. 10 Florida and No. 13 California, each on a neutral court and by a combined 50 points.

Unranked in the preseason AP poll, Syracuse needed just two weeks to climb to No. 10 and the Orange continued on a general upward trajectory, peaking at No. 1 for one week at the start of March. After Feb. 10, Syracuse stood at 24-1, its only blemish a 10-point home loss to Pittsburgh. The Orange played the Louisville Cardinals twice in the final six games of the regular season and Louisville won both, but those were the team's only losses during a 28-3 regular season.

Junior forward Wesley Johnson, pictured above, was named a consensus first-team All-American in a season in which he averaged a team-high 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 41 percent from three. He was one of five future NBA players on the roster, along with Andy Rautins, Kris Joseph, Arinze Onuaku and James Southerland. Rautins was named a third-team All-American by Sporting News.

Georgetown knocked Syracuse out of the Big East tournament quarterfinals, but the Orange had still done enough to earn a No. 1 seed, which led to first-weekend wins over No. 16 seed Vermont and No. 8 seed Gonzaga.

In the Sweet 16, Syracuse ran into No. 5 seed Butler, which actually finished the regular season ranked No. 11 in the AP poll — a far better ranking than the Bulldogs' seed might indicate — and Butler sent Syracuse home with a 63-59 win, as the Bulldogs made the first of two consecutive runs to the national championship game.

The Orange didn't have a bad shooting performance — 48 percent inside the arc, almost 37 percent from behind it and 71 percent from the line — but they were done in by 18 turnovers, which were especially harmful in a low-possession game.

MORE: We ranked Coach K's 11 best teams at Duke | Roy Williams' 9 best | Bill Self's 7 best

7. 1979-80

Record: 26-4
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Sweet 16

The 1980 season marked Syracuse's first in the Big East and a 34-turned-35-year-old Jim Boeheim led the Orange to their first-ever No. 1 seed in just the second NCAA tournament in which every team in the field was seeded. Playing just a six-game conference schedule, Syracuse went 5-1 in the Big East that season, finishing in a three-way tie for first with Georgetown and St. John's. The Orange's only conference loss was a 52-50 defeat to the Hoyas.

In non-conference action, Syracuse went 19-1, highlighted by a road win over No. 10 Purdue in January. However, the next game Syracuse lost on the road to Old Dominion by one point, as the Orange compiled a 23-2 regular-season record in which its two losses were by a combined three points. Georgetown beat Syracuse again in the Big East tournament championship game, by six.

The NCAA tournament bracket expanded to 48 teams that season and the No. 1-seeded Orange opened play against the No. 8-seeded Villanova Wildcats, a future Big East foe. Syracuse won 97-83, but lost its next game to No. 5 seed Iowa.

Syracuse was led by a pair of seniors Roosevelt Bouie, a 6-foot-11 center who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and Louis Orr, a 6-foot-8 forward who later played in the NBA after averaging 16.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 1980. They were known as "Louie and Bouie."

8. 1985-86

Record: 26-6
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the second round

The 1980s were a decade of mixed results for Syracuse, which played in its second-ever Final Four and first national championship game in 1987, but also had six first-weekend exits amid a 10-year run of NCAA tournament appearances in which the Orange was a No. 3 seed or better in seven of those years.

In '86, Syracuse was led by junior guard Pearl Washington, pictured above, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.8 assists per game, with forwards Wendell Alexis and Rafael Addison each averaging 15 points per game. The Orange started the season ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll and they remained there for the first nine weeks of the season, amid a 12-0 start.

Back-to-back road games in mid-January against top-20 Georgetown and Louisville squads led to Syracuse's first losses of the season, but the Orange got revenge against the Hoyas with a win later in the season. St. John's and Syracuse split their two regular-season meetings and the two schools shared the regular-season title honors, each with a 14-2 Big East record. It was the Johnnies who won the Big East tournament, with a 70-69 win over Syracuse in the rubber match.

After earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, Syracuse marched past No. 15 seed Brown 101-52, before falling 97-85 to a David Robinson-led Navy team that was seeded seventh but ranked 17th in the final AP poll. Robinson had 35 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks in the win, making 21 of 27 free throw attempts. The Midshipmen got to the line 52 times, making 41, compared to the Orange's 20 attempts. Navy went on to advance to the Elite Eight.

9. 1989-90

Record: 26-7
Big East tournament finish: Lost in the championship game
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Sweet 16

For the second season in a row, and what would be the fifth time in six seasons, Syracuse earned a No. 2 seed in the 1990 NCAA tournament. The Orange went 10-1 in non-conference play, then finished 12-4 in the Big East to finish atop the conference standings, behind a scoring trio of forward Billy Owens, forward Derrick Coleman and guard Stephen Thompson, who collectively averaged roughly 54 points per game. Each averaged between 17.8 and 18.2 points per game, a rare balance of high-level scoring between three teammates.

The Orange were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for six consecutive weeks from November to January amid an 11-1 start to the season, which was highlighted by back-to-back wins over No. 16 Temple and No. 6 Duke. While Syracuse endured a pair of two-game losing streaks, one in mid-January and one in mid-February, the Orange won 10 of their final 12 games and made it to the Big East championship game, where they fell to UConn by three points.

In the Sweet 16, a Minnesota team seeded as a No. 6 seed but ranked No. 20 in the final AP poll sent Syracuse home with an 82-75 loss.

To see the complete rankings of all of Boeheim's teams, click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet.

Click here view the March Madness playlist on YouTube of memorable Syracuse men's basketball full-game replays, highlights and moments from the NCAA tournament.

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