It’s happened five times. Syracuse has made a Final Four run in each of the last five decades, four of them under the guidance of Jim Boeheim. Tonight the Orange dance with Michigan for a shot at JB’s second title. How do SU’s Final Four teams stack up against one another? The Fizz asked long time college hoops journalist Lenn Robbins from the New York Post.
The Fizz: The 2003 Championship team was a 3-seed and made a great run to New Orleans. Do you see any parallel between this year and in ’03?
Robbins: I don’t really think so, I think the main difference is with Carmelo they had trhe one player who you knew if you needed a basket, you needed a trip to the foul line, he was going to get it for you. I don’t think they have anyone offensively on this year’s team. I know Michael Carter-Williams is playing very well right now, and James Southerland is certainly capable of changing the game, but when I look back, you had a Gerry McNamara who was one of the great Syracuse college players. The main difference was Carmelo, having the guy who at the end of the day could just take over a game.
Fizz: SU’s run to Atlanta this year is improbable. How mind-boggling is it that Syracuse is an Arinze Onuako injury and a Fab Melo suspension away from going to its third Final Four in the last four years?
Robbins: To me that’s what sets the NCAA Tournament apart from anything else. It is that one-game-single-elimination style. The success can be so fleeting; Jim Boeheim said [yesterday] that team with Arinze Onuaku he thought was his best team. He goes down and suddenly everything changes. This year’s team, Jim was pretty consistent all year long saying he thought he was one of 12-16 teams that had a chance. And we always remember what’s most recent, so Syracuse fans remember the Georgetown game [on March 9th]. And they remember them losing four of its final five, and they say, no way this team is getting to a Final Four. But the way college basketball is particularly this season, anyone can get to the Final Four, and Syracuse did that. They got some really good matchups, they played some of its best ball of the season, and right now it’s down to four. Two more games and you’re cutting down the nets.
Fizz: It’s hard to say that the 2003 team is not the best all-time because they have the banner. But can you make a case that the 1987 or 1996 teams for example were better?
Robbins: In terms of talent, I thought the ’87 team was the best team. I covered that game, and part of it was the Indiana lore, and part of it was a lot of the nation was still trying to figure out what Syracuse was. Who was Jim Boeheim? This were the days before internet and before six ESPN channels, so even though they were a national program, they really were a “Northeast National” program. So I think people were really looking at Syracuse as kind of an anomaly. But that was an incredible collection of talent. You had Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, I mean you’re talking about two of the greatest Syracuse players of all time. I thought that was the best team from a talent standpoint that got to the Final Four.
Fizz: Carmelo Anthony averaged 20 points a game during his championship run. MCW is not quite scoring at that rate but he’s taking over games thanks to his consistent play. Do you see a connection between the two, both playing great in the tourney, the NBA possibility for Mike after this year like Melo?
Robbins: At this point it’s apples and oranges. Let’s remember, Carter-Williams got a lot of benefit last year sitting behind Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche, and, yes, getting some playing time and seeing things unfold. I thought that was a real benefit to him coming into this year. He has probably developed as quickly as any player under Jim Boeheim. What he has done in really his first year is really outstanding because what he’s done is adjusted. He came out so good in those first 14, 15 or 16 games and was leading the nation in assists, but then you get into Big East play and all of a sudden [team’s say], “Hey, Mike, beat us with your jumper!’ Now he’s a much more complete player, I think his best basketball is definitely still in front of him. I loom at his frame and say, wow, what a ceiling. I’m really impressed with how competitive he is more than anything else. I look at that kid on every play and, boy, is he vested in what he’s doing.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald