HOUSTON >> Jim Boeheim quickly scoffed at what has become an almost-constant suggestion — that it was a rough season for the Syracuse coach who has been associated with the school for more than a half-century.
"I'm happier now at the end of this year than any time I've ever coached," said Boeheim, who was a Syracuse player and assistant coach before being promoted to head coach 40 years ago Sunday. "I'm really not that tired. I had 30 days off. So, shoot, I could probably go another 30."
Boeheim served a nine-game suspension during this season for NCAA violations. The Orange started ACC play with four consecutive losses and later lost five of their six games before the NCAA Tournament field was set, raising legitimate questions about whether they would even be in the 68-team field.
Then as a No. 10 seed, they got to the Sweet 16 before a pair of impressive comebacks, one over a No. 1 seed, to get to the Final Four. That's where the season ended with an 83-66 to ACC rival North Carolina, the only No. 1 seed to get to Houston.
"I haven't had a rough season. I had a great season," the 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach said.
"I'm more satisfied than I've ever been in any year that I've ever coached, with the possible of exception the year we won it all," he said. "We had a lot of on-the-court adversity. We just struggled at different times this year. It would have been very easy to have a horrendous year this year with all things considered."
Syracuse's championship was in 2003, and the Orange (23-14) came up one win short this season of making it back to the title game for the first time since. They were the fourth double-digit seed to make it to the Final Four, and like the other three, lost in a semifinal.
"We showed a lot of heart and hustle out there," freshman Tyler Lydon said. "We were determined to win every game and it didn't go our way at every point of the season, so obviously we were grateful to be in this position. We wish we could've gone farther but it was definitely a heck of a year."
Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije played their final games for Syracuse, but the 6-foot-9 Lydon will be back. And Boeheim could be in for another feel-good season if forward Tyler Roberson and Malachi Richardson, the freshman who was the Midwest Regional MVP, return for the Orange. There is also an impressive signing class on the way.
Syracuse opened the NCAA Tournament with easy wins over Dayton and Middle Tennessee, the team that shocked No. 2 seed Michigan State in the opening round.
The Orange needed a 9-3 run in the final 3 minutes of the Sweet 16 for a 63-60 win over Gonzaga. There was then that memorable second-half comeback by his players from a 16-point deficit in the Midwest Regional final to beat Virginia 68-62.
"The first two games in the tournament, we did some really good things. The next two games, according to those statistical things, that we should have lost to Gonzaga and we should have lost to Virginia based on where we were in the games," Boeheim said. "They wouldn't let that happen. They made some unbelievable plays."