His Syracuse team was banned from the tournament last year and bashed for even garnering a No. 10 seed this season.
The team snuck in, despite he – Jim Boeheim himself – being suspended nine games over a 32-day midseason stretch, a dull, depressing period made worse by a 4-5 record. About the only thing worse was the 1-5 run to conclude the season.
This was a team and a program and a 40-year, Hall-of-Fame coaching career, saddled again by NCAA sanctions, seemingly leaking oil at every turn.
Yet Syracuse will tip off against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Friday, Boeheim's 18th trip this deep into the NCAA tournament. The Orange in March, same as it ever was.
Boeheim can be as wonderfully and colorfully indignant and dismissive as anyone. He's also never cared what other people think of him, certainly not media or opposing fans.
So there have been no rants on the doubters, at least not many yet. Besides, he might note, that while being the show-up-the-critics underdog is fun, it's even more fun being a top-three seed with the ability to trot out a Carmelo Anthony or Pearl Washington or Derrick Coleman.
If nothing else, this is a reminder that even if you can't stand the 71-year-old and never could, he deserves a nod of appreciation for never, ever wavering.
"Nobody that said we didn't deserve to be in [the NCAA tournament] obviously doesn't know anything about basketball," Boeheim declared this weekend in St. Louis – his boldest, and latest, shot at the TV analysts.
What is undeniable is that this March is the latest in a career full of reminders that Boeheim's system and Boeheim's world view, as simple as it can appear to be, still work just fine.
Syracuse handily defeated Dayton 70-51 and Middle Tennessee 75-50 using the same six-, seven-player rotation and the same 2-3-zone defense and the same don't-give-a-damn chip on its shoulder it always employs. Not much has changed since he took over in 1976, delivering four Final Fours and one national title to Central New York.
Once again, Boeheim went with a short bench, with just five players getting the overwhelming minutes. It's his preferred manner. No matter how big the program has gotten over the past four decades, he's never wavered in his belief that recruiting too many great players just screws up chemistry. Better to get a few and let them play. You won't find too many other coaches with the self-confidence to attempt that.
"All the great players I've had hate to come out," Boeheim told Yahoo Sports a few years back. "The first eight games we played [in 1988-89] we were winning by an average of 35 points and Billy Owens was playing only 30 minutes. [He] said, 'Coach, I didn't come here to play 30 minutes.'
"Learned a long time ago about good players – they want to be in the game."
As a result, Boeheim doesn't fan out recruiting every potential McDonald's All-American. He zeroes in on the best possible guys who fit his system and his style – usually really good players from the Northeast, whom a Syracuse winter won't scare.
Make no mistake, the Orange have always had very good, and often terrific, talent. They haven't had North Carolina talent or Kentucky talent, or Duke or Kansas or UCLA talent.
Boeheim has signed 19 McDonald's All-Americans through the years. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has signed 65. North Carolina has brought in 70 under various coaches. John Calipari has recruited 25 since he took over Kentucky … in 2009.
While Boeheim has sent more than 40 players to the NBA, he's coached just two who became All Stars: Anthony (eight times); and Coleman (once). There have been a lot of really good players. A lot. There have been few truly elite ones.
There is so much non-conventional wisdom to what Boeheim does and how Boeheim operates, though. It gets lost because of the non-conventional way he approaches his public image. Polished salesmen overwhelmed this sport decades ago, more than willing to expose their genius. Boeheim either doesn't attempt to sell himself, or does a poor job of it. The media is, at best, tolerated.
Consider that simple zone defense, which goes hand in hand with playing guys so many minutes. It might seem outdated, but Dayton entered the tournament averaging 73.2 points a game and managed just 51 against the Orange. Middle Tennessee was averaging 73.9 and just dropped 90 on Michigan State. Syracuse held it to 50.
Was Boeheim going to crow about his 2-3?
"If your defense is good, it helps you in tournaments," he said simply on Sunday. "It doesn't matter what defense you play."
Because his defense works, at least most of the time, why change it? Why change anything?
Boeheim arrived at Syracuse in the fall of 1962 as a walk-on from nearby Lyons, N.Y. Other than a brief stint playing in Scranton, Pa., in the old Eastern League, he never left. He only "interviewed" for another job once, in 1986, and mainly because then-Ohio State athletic director Rick Bay wouldn't stop hounding him for a face-to-face.
"It lasted 20 minutes," Boeheim said.
The job was turned down without even being used as a negotiating ploy for a newer, richer deal. His failure to play the job-offer game is why Boeheim makes about a third of the $6 million-plus Krzyzewski or Calipari earns. Then again, even if Boeheim tried, it's unlikely anyone at Syracuse would believe he would ever leave.
One time back in the early 1980s, Boeheim and his first wife, Elaine, went on vacation with his then-assistant Rick Pitino and Rick's wife Joanne. A hypothetical question arose: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live. Paris, Maui, Miami were all batted about. Rick eventually settled on San Francisco. Joanne chose Manhattan. Elaine, it's recalled, said somewhere in the Caribbean.
Finally, it was Boeheim's turn. He said Syracuse, claiming Hawaii is just Syracuse in July. Everyone laughed at him. He wasn't joking.
He's been in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame since 2005 and trails only Krzyzewski for most wins as a college coach, a total that is under some dispute. The NCAA likes to vacate victories as punishment, and Syracuse has been punished a few times over the decades.
That's part of the deal, too, though. And a side benefit to the tight rotation, who cares about scholarship reductions when you need only half a dozen guys?
Whatever, Boeheim has survived it all. Survived the NCAA punishments, survived the Bernie Fine situation, survived cancer, survived the conference realignments, the new administrations and, of course, the changing of the guard, a few times over.
The first of his 55 NCAA tournament victories came in 1977, over Tennessee, which was coached by Ray Mears, who was born in 1926. His first-round opponent this year, Dayton's Archie Miller, wasn't alive when the game took place.
This season felt particularly frantic and on the edge. Everything nearly imploded during a nine-game suspension for NCAA violations, Boeheim unable to do a thing about it.
"It's not fun sitting at home for 32 days when you haven't been able to plan it," Boeheim said this week. "So it's a good lesson for retirement. Make sure you have a plan."
He said friends told him to get out of Syracuse and play golf somewhere.
"How do you go play golf when your team's getting beat by 10, 15 points someplace?" Boeheim said. "I don't think that's a good picture to put in the paper, which I'm sure they would: 'Jim Boeheim playing golf and his team's losing.' So there was never an alternative that you could do … you sit home, you watch the games.
"Nobody really wanted to watch them with me, I guarantee you that. And I now realize what fans do when I always laugh at them that you're yelling at the television. And that's what you do when you're not there."
He eventually returned, though, and last week so did Syracuse – same system, same roster management, same old curmudgeon on the sideline.
Same result too: another March, another run.
Old dog. Old tricks.
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