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Expect ‘fashionable’ Syracuse hoops season; a memorable stretch run by the Bills

Jim Boeheim made a fashion statement during Syracuse University’s 40-point thrashing of Division II LeMoyne College in an exhibition game at the Carrier Dome Monday night. Donning a navy blue track suit rather than a finely tailored blazer and tie, he signaled the end of a clothing tradition that’s about to go the way of the two-handed set shot and the leisure suit. Several weeks ago, he and his fellow Atlantic Coast Conference basketball coaches voted unanimously to stop wearing suits and ties during games. Casual attire is in. And Boeheim, now in his 46th season as Orange hoops pooh-bah, couldn’t be happier with the new, relaxed dress code.

“This is the way I practice every day,” he said, tugging at his Syracuse sweats during his post-game press conference. “They’re comfortable. There’s no comparison. No comparison.”

As I type this column, clad in sweat pants and T-shirt from my home office, I get where Boeheim is coming from. Still, there’s a part of me saddened by this seismic sartorial shift. There was something about coaches in their Hickey Freeman threads that screamed, “Game Day!” And those suits clearly played a role in some of Boeheim’s most memorable moments. Tailors would cringe while watching the Hall of Fame coach yank off his designer jacket and toss it to the floor after being irritated by an errant shot or pass or a questionable call by a zebra-stripe-shirted referee.

Who will ever forget that nationally televised game in Cameron Indoor Arena seven winters ago when Boeheim raged off the bench and attempted — unsuccessfully — to rip off his suit while protesting an offensive foul that ensured a Duke victory? Interestingly, that suit wound up fetching $14,000 at a charity auction benefitting the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation.

Once he married Juli 24 years ago, Jim’s sartorial tastes took a dramatic turn for the better. She quickly put in mothballs the sensory-assaulting, hodge-podge of mismatching outfits that had long been Jim’s choices of game-time attire.

Alas, this trend toward comfort over style appears to be irreversible. Boeheim said as much.

“I’ll do a Derrick Colemen,” he said, alluding to the former Syracuse and NBA star who opted to pay fines rather than wear suits and ties on road trips while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. “If they said, ‘We’re going to fine you for every game you must wear your suit,’ like $1,000, I’d just write a check for the whole season.”

I’m sure there will be moments this season when Boeheim will wish he had a suit to toss to the hardwood. But methinks there will be more moments when the curmudgeonly coach will have reasons to celebrate. Though most experts have the Orange finishing near the middle of the pack in the ACC, I think SU is going to surprise some folks this fall and winter.

This will be one of the most experienced teams Boeheim has ever fielded, with two graduate students, two seniors, four third-year players, two players in their second year and just one freshman. As gifted college basketball writer Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard noted, the average age of SU’s potential starting lineup is 22.4 years, with Buddy Boeheim (62 starts), Joe Girard (58), Jimmy Boeheim (38), Bourama Sidibe (33) and Cole Swider (18) combining for 208 career starts.

Swider, the transfer from Villanova, is a dependable shooter and smart passer. Buddy Boeheim went on a scoring binge during last season’s conference and NCAA tournaments, and is regarded as a legitimate NBA prospect at shooting guard. Girard is expected to bounce back from a season in which he was weakened by COVID. Jimmy Boeheim was a solid scorer at Cornell, and obviously grew up assimilating his father’s basketball knowledge. And five-star freshman forward Benny Williams has limitless potential, and should see extensive playing time from the get-go.

This team is loaded with guys who know how to shoot, pass and score. SU’s success operating Coach Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone defense and rebounding and shot-blocking production from its centers — particularly up-and-coming 6-foot-11 junior Jesse Edwards — will determine whether the Orange surprises the pundits and plays deep into March.

***

Recent developments have only strengthened my belief that the Buffalo Bills are in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the AFC. The Bills struggled against the lowly Miami Dolphins last Sunday, but, like a good pitcher who finds a way to win when he doesn’t have his best stuff, Buffalo muddled through to victory.

Tennessee still holds the conference’s top spot, but the season-ending injury to sublime running back Derrick Henry is going to be next-to-impossible to overcome since so much of the Titans offense rode on him. The Cincinnati Bengals loss to the moribund New York Jets a week after trouncing the Baltimore Ravens indicates Cincy isn’t quite ready to be a prime-time player. And last year’s champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, appear to be in a season-long funk they might not shake off. Unless they experience a miraculous bounce-back, I can see them not making the playoffs.

So, the Bills continue to be on a Super Bowl trajectory, and the only thing that could stop them would be a serious injury to MVP-caliber quarterback Josh Allen.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

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