A triumph over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 was about as good as it got for Syracuse basketball in 2011-12, but there was so much more depth to the season that simply and Elite 8 run. Yes, the Ohio State loss was a disappointing end to the campaign, but there was plenty of bright spots along the way – and some shady turns in the process.
Syracuse kicked off the season with 20 straight wins, in what was the best start in school history. The team also capped the regular season with 30 wins for the first time ever. With the NCAA Tournament run and Big East results, the Orange finished 34-3, also the most wins in school history while remaining in the Top-5 in the polls from wire-to-wire.
When you add in those accolades along with a Big East regular-season title despite all the negative attention the program received throughout the season for various reasons – the year was indeed a success. However, a team is measured by its finish, and it was a bit short of expectation no matter the circumstance.
Team Grade: B+ (Regular-season was an A, Tourney results a B)
As for the make-up of the roster, it was an up-and-down year for most and a breakout campaign for others. For the leader of the team, it was the culmination of five years of turmoil and growth.
Scoop Jardine: The fifth-year senior did all he could to erase his "good-Scoop, bad-Scoop" mantra, and he accomplished the goal with a solid campaign. Most impressively, he elevated his already solid game to another level once the NCAA Tournament arrived – and the veteran went out with a bang by leading the team in scoring (13.8 ppg), assists (6.25), three-pointers made (nine) and he was second in free-throw percentage (83 %).
Final Grade: A- (Solid most of the way through, especially late)
Kris Joseph: The team's other senior had a different career, often being called a steady part of Syracuse's team for four years instead of the wildcard that Jardine was. Joseph led the team in scoring during the regular-season (13.4 ppg), but faded in the postseason. Still, his all-around effectiveness as a defender, rebounder and winner made for a solid career in Orange.
Final Grade: B (Usually good, but poor finish)
Brandon Triche: The quiet junior had his fair share of struggles throughout the campaign, but had a big impact when it counted most. In select games, including the Elite Eight loss to Ohio State, Triche was the most aggressive player on the floor for SU – doing things that often didn't show in the box score. However, his lulls were well-documented and the year was average at best.
Final Grade: C+ (He was the epitome of up-and-down)
James Southerland: The fun-loving junior was at times a spark offensively, and at times a confusing force of defense with an absent shot. In the early part of the season, Southerland was an X-factor with his lethal shooting ability from beyond the arc – until he went on a mega-drought during Big East play. Still, when the offense wasn't there, he became an excellent defender, especially in terms of rebounding and shot-blocking. And in in NCAA Tourney play, he was solid on both ends of the floor – shooting 6 of 10 from deep.
Final Grade: B (He showed plenty of growth and value on both ends)
Fab Melo: What a difference a year makes. The sophomore trimmed down, toned-up and became the defensive force he was recruited to be – earning Big Easy Defensive Player of the Year honors in the process. Melo also elevated his scoring and offensive awareness, but he will be remembered for a pair of ineligibility issues – including the entire Tournament - that may have cost the teams wins.
Final Grade: C (A for his play, but F for his timeliness)
C.J. Fair: Mr. consistency was just that in 2011-12 as a rebounder, scorer, defender and durable piece to the puzzle. The numbers don't give Fair justice for his impact on the roster as truly the glue-guy on the team who could play multiple positions. His lefty jumper is still the smoothest thing on the court, even if he tailed-off at the end of the season.
Final Grade: B+ (A for 99% of the year, but just average in postseason play)
Dion Waiters: The best player on the floor in terms of talent finally became just the best player on the floor. Waiters took the country by storm early-on in the year with electrifying plays on both ends of the floor. He, like Jardine, also elevated his game when it counted most – even going for a career-high 28 points in the Big East Tournament loss to Cincinnati. Shooting, dunking, stealing and pushing the ball came easily to the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year.
Final Grade: A (Always made an impact, sealed a few wins in the process)
Baye Keita: After injuries impacted his freshman campaign, Keita responded with some solid moments as a sophomore. His role often changed because of Melo's situations, but the shot-blocker adjusted accordingly although his offensive game was virtually non-existent. Keita finished second to Melo in blocks despite scarce minutes at times, but picked it up in the NCAAs once Melo was out – even holding his own against Jared Sullinger.
Final Grade: C+ (One-dimensional on offense, but solid on defense when given a shot)
Rakeem Christmas: Like Keita, Christmas was thrust into a big role once Melo was deemed ineligible. He also held his own defensively, especially in the Tourney – tying Keita with a team-high seven blocks in four games. The freshman was often on a short leash, but developed into a promising project late in the year on both ends of the floor.
Final Grade: B- (Undisciplined, yes – but improved with every minute of playing time)
Michael Carter-Williams: The other freshman on the team showed flashes of promise in 26 games, but he wasn't given the chance to impact postseason play while given a total of eight minutes over the last six games. MCW had an astounding 54:16 assist-turnover ratio to his name, and was a pest atop the 2-3 zone in limited playing time.
Final Grade: Incomplete (We didn't see enough of MCW to completely evaluate)