We are admittedly well late to the party with this question, but amidst all of the fawning articles and celebratory columns remarking on the incredible 900 wins that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has amassed, there was one turd in the punch bowl – CBS Sports college basketball analyst and noted Syracuse agitator Doug Gottlieb. Gottlieb has contended for quite some time that Boeheim is a great coach, but not an “elite” coach, especially when compared to some of his contemporaries who have had more success in the NCAA Tournament such as Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun. Now its true that Gottlieb has a rather testy history with Syracuse, its fans, and its famed head coach, but for the sake of this argument, we will ignore the suspicions of personal bias and just take his argument on its face. So without further delay, we posed the question to the three microsite writers and here is what they came up with.
Will Tucker: It’s hard to pass up an opportunity to lampoon Doug Gottlieb, especially when his subject is a coach with whom he seemingly has an ax to grind. But it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. As Mike points out, when you compare Jim Boeheim’s postseason accomplishments to those of his peers, his 900+ wins––amassed disproportionately early in the season––serve as an indictment in their distribution as much as a milestone in their volume. And Gottlieb’s accusation that Boeheim’s soft nonconference schedules have been a disservice to his team’s toughness is a fair criticism that merits further investigation. But Doug’s aversion to nuance is on full display, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. While Boeheim’s nonconference scheduling is and should be fair game, Gottlieb further attributes Syracuse’s postseason stumbles to feasting on an overrated Big East schedule. This seems more ad hominem than intellectually honest, and Doug conveniently ignores the 2010-11 UConn and 2011-12 Louisville teams that reached Final Fours with nearly ten Big East losses apiece. He also summarily mocks Boeheim’s zone defense as an inferior system nobody else uses with any success. In doing so, he ignores that Boeheim’s protégé Rick Pitino took an offensively stunted group to a Final Four with a variation of that zone last season, and the Cards retain the most efficient defense in the country again this year (Syracuse is hot on their heels at #3). Rhetoric notwithstanding, at the crux of this discussion is a fan’s aesthetic preference between regular season success and tournament success. Sure, the two aren’t mutually exclusive (paging Mike Kryzyzewski), but most coaches fall somewhere toward either end of the spectrum. Knowing all too well how a team’s struggles in the winter can exacerbate my seasonal affective disorder, I’m philosophical about the whole thing. I’ll take a Sweet 16 preceded by four months of big wins, high rankings, and conference championships over an agonizing regular season capped off by an Elite Eight––every time. Gottlieb subscribes to the notion that tournament success supersedes any other measuring stick, and the rigidness of his assumptions leaves little room for us to meet in the middle. Ultimately, I think it detracts from the salient questions his raises about what makes a coach great.