Few college basketball programs can match Syracuse's consistent excellence. Yes, the Orange have had their postseason bumps (Richmond, Vermont), but that's true for any elite team. Everyone has an occasional NCAA tournament misstep.
And 'Cuse more than makes up for any misstep with their overwhelming hoops résumé. That's why they're No. 9 on the list of greatest programs.
Since 1912, Syracuse has had just six losing seasons, and none since 1969. That's success most teams dream of.
Syracuse has 1,725 wins, fifth most all-time. Its .684 win percentage is seventh best.
The Orange have 31 NCAA tournament berths (eighth most), been in 14 Sweet 16s (as many as Indiana), four Final Fours and a national title.
That's damn impressive.
Coaching's been a crucial part. It's had just seven coaches since the program began in 1900. (By comparison, Kansas has had eight coaches overall, while Kentucky and Duke are on No. 19.)
Even under coaches like Fred Lewis – who brought in the Orange's first big-time recruit in Dave Bing – and Roy Danforth – who took the school to its first Final Four – Syracuse continued to grow as a program.
But nothing has elevated it more than Jim Boeheim.
In 32 seasons under Boeheim, the Orange have won less than 60 percent of their games just twice. In that span, they've won an NCAA title, been to three Final Fours, claimed eight Big East regular-season titles and won at least 25 games 14 times.
When you're a perennial contender, it's usually because you have a coach who keeps the program at that level. And that's exactly what Boeheim's done for Syracuse.
Listen to a legendary player like Bing, who played with Boeheim during a brilliant three-year career (check out the 1965-66 team that averaged nearly 100 points a game!), state the case for the Hall of Fame coach: "Jim Boeheim is Syracuse basketball."
Early on, he was pegged as a whiner, but that image has changed somewhat in recent years. During his induction ceremony, Boeheim shrugged off that notion. "I've always been a happy guy."
But, before the Boeheim proclamations become too great, I'll turn the attention to the great players and teams under him.
Starting with Dwayne "Pearl" Washington in 1984, Syracuse has consistently featured some of the NCAA's best players. In fact, most times the Orange revolve around one or two great talents and find role players to fill the rest of the spots.
Washington, an electric ball-handler and brilliant passer, set the tone upon his arrival in 1983 and ensured more top-flight talent would follow. (Because of this, Boeheim called Washington "the most important player that ever came to Syracuse" in 1996.
After Washington, Sherman Douglas assumed play-making duties and the Orange didn't miss a step. In fact, between the 1985-86 and 1990-91 seasons, they enjoyed probably their best run of success, winning at least 26 games every year, claiming four Big East titles and reaching the 1987 NCAA tournament title game.
(That loss to Indiana remains one of the all-time Big Dance classics, a game that featured NBA talent, two Hall of Fame coaches and a shot that remains among the most replayed clips during March.)
It was during this period that Syracuse's stature grew the most, both because of the Big East rise and the Orange's heated rivalry with Georgetown, the conference's other perennial contender.
After an NCAA violation that resulted in a one-year tournament ban, 'Cuse was back in the championship game by 1996, featuring a team markedly different from Boeheim's last Final Four squad, which was an up-tempo, high-scoring group.
Instead, the Orange grew into a defensive terror – teams hate that 2-3 zone – and put together an unexpected run to the title game behind a brilliant tournament from one-man wrecking crew John Wallace.
The '96 Final Four was cast as the two best teams, Kentucky and UMass, playing in a semifinal, leaving the winner as a given for the title. That wasn't the case here. The Wildcats would go down as one of the great single-season teams, but Syracuse nearly overcame a 13-point deficit, before losing 76-67.
For the next six years, 'Cuse didn't sniff another Final Four and Boeheim was tagged with the rep of "the best coach to never win a title."
That changed in 2003.
The arrival of Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse's best player? Perhaps. It's most important recruit? Maybe. It's biggest winner? Certainly.) gave the 2002-03 team a go-to guy it hadn't had since the likes of Bing.
'Cuse missed the Big Dance before Anthony arrived and wasn't ranked to start the season. But they only lost twice in the final two months, survived a couple of close calls in the NCAA tournament and beat Kansas for the title.
The Orange haven't hit the same heights since, mostly due to early player defections and a spate of injuries the last two seasons. (Though some wonder if Boeheim's starting to lose his touch.)
But that's all nitpicking. Syracuse has built up too much history for a couple of OK seasons to derail it now.
Coming next Tuesday, No. 8 on the list of greatest programs.