Jim Boeheim is entering his 33rd season as the coach at Syracuse. Never during his tenure has his team missed the NCAA tournament three consecutive seasons.
The Orange played in the NIT in 1981 and '82 before making the 1983 NCAAs, and the Orange has played in the past two NITs.
If Syracuse is to end its current NIT streak, a healthy Eric Devendorf is a necessity. Devendorf suffered a torn ACL 10 games into last season, when he was averaging 17 points and 3.9 assists. He also was shooting a sizzling 40.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Orange was 7-3 with him in the lineup. Granted, it was just the non-conference schedule, but the team went 14-11 without him as the depth and outside shooting took a downturn.
"We had injuries to myself and (fellow guard) Andy Rautins, and it put a load on the young guys to have to come in pick up the slack," Devendorf told Rivals.com. "They didn't know what to expect. It was a lot of pressure."
It also turned into a lot of minutes. The four players left in the starting lineup after Devendorf went down (Rautins already had been lost for the season before it began with a torn ACL of his own) each averaged more than 30 minutes per game. Freshmen Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene and sophomore Paul Harris each averaged at least 35.5 minutes.
It made for a tired, young team that frequently struggled on the defensive end. There was nothing Devendorf could do except rehab his knee.
"The type of guy I am, I just love to play, and when it's taken away it hurts," Devendorf said. "And it hurts more to watch your team play and struggle. You just want to be out there."
Greene (17.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) left after one season to enter the NBA draft, but Boeheim welcomes back Flynn, Harris and Arinze Onuaku - all of whom excelled last season.
"Jonny is one of the top point guards in the country," Devendorf said. "And he was playing like 40 minutes a game. The incoming freshmen played a lot.
"That should help them. They have experience from last year at a young age, and they should be more confident."
The Orange is confident Devendorf and Rautins are recovered from their knee injuries. They're capable of combining for as many as 150 3-pointers.
"I feel I'm close to 100 percent," Devendorf said. "The knee feels really good. The staff and trainers are doing a really good job.
"All of the work to get back has paid off. I've been playing 5-on-5 for a month. The knee feels great. It's rare that it's even sore."
To get back to the NCAA tournament, there is the small problem of negotiating the Big East, a league so loaded that it has eight teams in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25. Syracuse isn't one of them, but the Orange came in at No. 32 in our Top 65 Countdown.
If there ever were a year you could finish eighth or ninth in a conference and still make the NCAAs, this is it.
"We're in the best conference in the country," Devendorf said. "There's no question. There are eight or nine teams that will make the tournament. It's crazy. But you want to play against the best competition."
Will Syracuse be one of those eight or nine?
"Oh, yeah, definitely," Devendorf said. "A lot of teams might be overlooking us because they don't know how me and Andy will come back and play. We'll be ready."
Boeheim enters this season as the fourth-winningest active coach in Division I. Who is ahead of him? (Answer at the end of the column.
FORMER NEW MEXICO STAR GIVES BACK
Danny Granger, a burgeoning NBA star for the Indiana Pacers, has pledged $500,000 to the athletics program at his alma mater, New Mexico.
Granger, who played for the Lobos in 2003-04 and 2004-05 before being drafted in the first round by the Pacers, will give $100,000 a year for each of the next five years. The money will go toward renovations of the legendary basketball arena "The Pit" and to University Stadium.
It is one of the largest individual donations to UNM athletics.
"New Mexico is a second home to me, and the University of New Mexico gave me a lot of opportunities," Granger said during a news conference at the school. "I attribute so much to them for all the things I've been able to make of myself.
"The Pit holds a special place in my heart. For all the love The Pit showed – not just to me, but to the whole team – I want to give something back because I'm a Lobo fanatic and this is a great way for me to do that."
The renovated locker room in The Pit will carry Granger's name.
• Speaking of the Lobos, they have an eight-man freshman class including 6-10 redshirt Kem Nweke. Consequently, you won't see them picked among the top teams in the Mountain West Conference, but by season's end, they could prove to be dangerous. Four-star shooting guard Phillip McDonald, the No. 88 prospect in the nation, turned down Kansas to play at UNM. Isaiah Rusher, a 6-9 center ranked No. 21 at his position, hasn't been admitted to school but the hope is he will be able to enroll for the second semester and be eligible in December. He's a big-time athlete with a major upside. Rivals.com's analysts also like the game of three-star shooting guard Curtis Dennis. "They have a combination of everything – shooting, athleticism, you name it," Lobos senior Chad Toppert said. "They are really impressive."
• Two teams will tip home games at 11 p.m. local time on Monday, Nov. 17, and one game will be played at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 18, as part of a 23-hour basketball marathon on ESPN's family of networks. Memphis plays host to Massachusetts at 11 p.m. Central time to tip off the hoops hysteria, followed by Fresno State at Saint Mary's (11 p.m. Pacific) and Idaho State at Hawaii. It's not clear who will be watching in the East, as that game tips at 4 a.m. Live action then takes a break for a four-hour "College Hoops Tip-Off Special" and picks up again when Penn plays at Drexel at 10 a.m. Eastern. Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer told Rivals.com the start time was cleared with the provost. He said he asked if classes could be canceled that morning, but the school decided against it. "We have 21,000 students, but the arena only holds 2,500," Zillmer said, "so plenty of students will be in class." Zillmer said the school is billing the event as "Breakfast at the DAC," the acronym for Drexel's arena, the Daskalakis Athletic Center. "The bottom line is it's a great branding opportunity for us," Zillmer said. "It will be ESPN on our campus with a crowd going crazy at 10 a.m. I think it will be sold out, and students will come out and face paint and really cut loose."
• For colleagues, former players and fans interested in sending get-well wishes to Northern State coach Don Meyer, you can send them to:
Avera McKennan Hospital
800 E. 21st St.
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
Meyer, the second-winningest coach in college basketball to Bob Knight, recently was diagnosed with cancer after a car accident that resulted in his left leg being amputated below the knee.