The Syracuse Basketball program was first started in 1898. That was 122 years and 119 seasons ago. In that time span, Syracuse made it to six (6) Final Fours. Granted, in the early years there was no national tournament and when there was it was never like it is today. Six out of 119 seasons is 5%. That doesn’t sound great, but making it to a Final Four once is impressive.
Today begins a series called “Fizz Four” where we will rank the top four Syracuse Basketball Final Four runs. Picking the top four Final Four runs and ranking them isn’t easy. The seasons to choose from are 1975, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2013, and 2016. Here is number four:
No. 4: 1987 Final Four
Going into the regular season, Syracuse didn’t have too high of expectations. The Orangemen had to replace Pearl Washington, Raf Addison and Wendell Alexis. Despite those departures, they started the season 15-0 and were able to put together a 23-5 regular season record thanks to sophomore Sherman Douglas, junior Rony Seikaly, and freshman Derrick Coleman.
Syracuse finished as the Big East Regular Season Champion, but fell to Georgetown in the conference tournament for the third time that season. The Orangemen went into the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed. It was the final tournament to feature home-court advantage and the first to have a three-point line.
The First Round featured #2 Syracuse hosting #15 Georgia Southern. A game that should have been a breeze for the Orangemen, turned into a battle at the end. SU was only able to sneak by with a 79-73 win. Douglas, Coleman, Seikaly, and Greg Monroe all scored in double-figures. Plus, Monroe took advantage of the addition of the three point line, knocking down four deep-balls.
The Carrier Dome hosted the Second Round as well with #2 Syracuse taking on #10 Western Kentucky. This time the Orangemen looked like the favorite that they were, pouring in 104 points, which is the most they scored all season. The final score was 104-86. Four Orangemen scored 20+, but that wasn’t even the biggest storyline of the game. Towards the end, Western Kentucky thought the only way it could get back in the game was to continually foul SU’s Derek Brower, who wasn’t a great free-throw shooter. He ended up going 0-6 from the line and spent most of his time running around trying to avoid defenders coming to tackle him.
Finally some competition came to the Orange in the Sweet Sixteen when #2 Syracuse faced #6 Florida. Siekaly went off for 33 points, while the other four starters all finished in double-figures. The Orangemen pulled out an 87-81 win. Let it also be known that Boeheim coached this game just like he coaches today– a seven-man rotation. Only two players came off the bench for a combined 11 minutes and zero points scored against the Gators.
The Elite Eight is where it got interesting. #2 Syracuse had to square off against #1 North Carolina. Let me set the stage– this UNC team was 32-3, won the ACC, was led by one of the best coaches in college basketball history with Dean Smith, and had seven future NBA players including Kenny Smith. If the Orangemen lost that game, no one would have been surprised, but they didn’t. Seikaly took over again with 26 points and 11 boards in a 79-75 SU victory.
The win sent Jim Boeheim to his first Final Four as head coach. Plus, all four coaches– Bob Knight, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, and Boeheim– have all since gone on to win National Championships. Syracuse headed down to the Big Easy for its second Final Four in program history.
The first game in New Orleans was pretty easy for #2 Syracuse who took down #6 Providence, 77-63. Three Orangemen tallied double-doubles and Boeheim felt so confident in the win that he gave the bench 31 combined minutes. Plus, this happened (skip to 43:00):
It’s not the best Syracuse Basketball fight, but freshman Derrick Coleman was just randomly throwing fists. Wow, the old Big East was the best.
It’s time for the NATTY! #2 Syracuse vs. #1 Indiana. The Orangemen went into the matchup with more momentum, as the Hoosiers were just squeaking by in some of the earlier games. However, that didn’t mean much as Syracuse and Indiana went into the half with only a one point difference. That is how the game would end too. Indiana pulled out a 74-73 win, despite Douglas scoring 20 and Coleman grabbing 19 rebounds.
Indiana’s Keith Smart took over the second half, scoring 15 of his 19 then. Steve Alford also torched the Orangemen, hitting seven three-pointers. Here’s the killer though for Syracuse fans– the Orangemen went 10-18 from the free throw line. One more and the game would’ve gone to overtime. Two more and Syracuse would have two National Championships right now.
Oh, what could have been. Either way, it was a magical run for Syracuse in 1987.
Check back later this week for the next installment of this Fizz Four series.