It was ugly, yes, but the memory of getting booted out of the NCAA tournament in a one-sided loss to Oklahoma the other night might end up being a plus for the Syracuse University basketball team.

It was ugly, yes, but the memory of getting booted out of the NCAA tournament in a one-sided loss to Oklahoma the other night might end up being a plus for the Syracuse University basketball team.

An uncommonly gifted and experienced group of players will return for SU next season. With the bitter memory of that rout to stoke a fire under their sneakers, the Orange should be highly motivated.

SU’s potential will be outrageous. If point guard Jonny Flynn does not go to the NBA, a question that might not answered for sure for a couple of months, Jim Boeheim probably will have the best combination of talent and experience he’s ever had in his long career.

This year, the Orange weathered a difficult late-season stretch, charged to the final game of the Big East tournament, won their first two games in the NCAA tourney, and finished 28-10. Whatever the team’s flaws and various players’ idiosyncrasies, that’s a great season and a terrific platform for something even better next winter.

Kristof Ongenaet, admirable and fiery, will be missed, but everyone else is back, and there will be plenty of reinforcements, too.

Again, if Flynn stays, he will be better as a leader and decision maker, and if his 3-point shooting improves, he’ll be next to impossible to deal with. Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins both will be capable of lighting things up, Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku will add their individual talents, and all four will be battle-tested and should have a lot of court savvy. The improving Rick Jackson will be a junior.

That’s a heck of a core group. Boeheim could do very well with just those six guys, but he has plenty more.

Wes Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward, started 55 games for Iowa State and averaged 12.4 points for the Cyclones before sitting out this season after transferring to SU. Freshman forward Kris Joseph showed promise at times, and Boeheim will get Mookie Jones and Scoop Jardine back.

That’s 10 guys you know can play, and while injuries and disaffection can cut into that number, it’s not a bad way to start. It’s good enough, in fact, that recruits Brandon Triche, the Jamesville-DeWitt star, and 6-11 DeShonte Riley might not have to make any contributions or can be brought along slowly.

Few teams in recent memory have had the combination of talent and experience SU will have next season. If Flynn leaves, that certainly will raise some serious questions – like who the point guard will be – but this team still will be real, real good.

The Big East is full of good young players, so the Orange will have to earn what they get, but, wow, wouldn’t you love to coach that squad? And they’re a bunch of kids who will be pushed by that bitter memory.

Observer-Dispatch