Pitoniak: Boeheim needs to accept blame

Jim Boeheim claims he meant it as a joke, but nobody was laughing. Least of all Syracuse University basketball fans who were hoping for once, just once, that the Hall of Fame basketball coach might assume at least some of the blame for his team's late-season collapse.

The "I'm pretty much ready to go play some golf" line went over like a Georgetown ticker-tape parade through downtown Syracuse. The trademark sarcastic Boeheim remark was the last thing people wanted to hear after the Orange men managed just 39 points - the lowest total by an SU hoops team since JFK was in the White House - in a regular-season-ending loss to the Hoyas Saturday. Syracuse has limped to the finish line with four losses in its last five games and seven in its last 12.

It's become pretty obvious that Boeheim has lost this team, and he doesn't have an answer to snap it out of its offensive lethargy.

We've sung Boeheim's praises as a great basketball coach through the years, and one disappointing season certainly doesn't diminish what he's achieved over 37 years. Although the flurry of mindless tweets and chat room posts suggest otherwise, Boeheim will still go down as one of the finest coaches in college history. But past achievements do not make him immune to legitimate criticism for the poor job he's done with this year's team.

The most disturbing thing about this Orange edition is the lack of player development. Other than C.J. Fair, who on this team has really shown marked improvement? Yes, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual player to do the things necessary to improve. But when you are dealing with impressionable and often fragile 18- to-22-year-old athletes in need of guidance, much of the onus falls on the ability of a head coach and his staff to provide direction.

This team has no true take-charge guy, no real leader. Brandon Triche and James Southerland are seniors who were supposed to fill the void left by the graduation of Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. But they've saved their worst for last. They can't lead themselves at this point, let alone others.

Michael Carter-Williams started out like gang-busters, averaging more than 10 assists per game, but, with the exception of a decent performance Saturday, he's been brought back down to Earth by the rugged defenses of the Big East. Any scout who believes MCW is ready for the NBA really needs to have his head examined.

James Southerland has proven to be a one-trick pony. Jacking them up from the outside has been his specialty, but he hasn't exactly been a world-beater at that, as evidenced by his zero-for-eight effort against the Hoyas.

The team's Achilles heel remains the center position, where former McDonald's All-American Rakeem Christmas doesn't look much advanced over the player who first showed up on campus two years ago.

Trevor Cooney, the red-shirt freshman shooting guard, continues to battle the yips with his outside shooting.

I'll give a pass to forward Jerami Grant, whom I think will be a special player before all is said and done, and center/forward Dajuan Coleman because they are freshmen, and first-year players often struggle at this level.

After the loss to Louisville in the Carrier Dome two Saturdays ago, Boeheim said he still liked this team, still thought it might be a good tournament team.

I wonder if he still feels that way. Or if he was talking about the NIT.

The Orange men have a winnable game Wednesday in the opening round of the Big East tournament. If they get past that one, they face Pitt. And then it would be a third meeting vs. Georgetown, which has limited them to a total of 84 points in two games.

Most bracketologists have SU as a fifth seed in the NCAAs, and if the Cuse were bounced in the first game of the Big East it could be looking at a sixth seed.

Either way, the Orange men are going to have a tough time going very deep. I see them losing in the second round, and I wouldn't be shocked at all if they were one and done.

They just aren't a very good basketball team.

And some of the blame has to fall on Boeheim, who definitely will be able to break out the clubs sooner than normal this March.

Author and columnist Scott Pitoniak has followed SU hoops since the mid-1960s and has covered them since the mid-1970s. He is author of "Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story." You can read more of his stuff at www.scottpitoniak.com.

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