Reports of Syracuse basketball’s demise were greatly exagerrated. It looked like a dead team walking, coming off the loss to Louisville, Fab Melo’s abrupt benching, Boeheim’s media assault. A program that at one point was undefeated after 18 games and ranked as high as #3 in the country, appeared to be an easy out in the Big East Tournament and the Big Dance.
The win over Villanova last night was a reminder A) that the Big East is the least predictable conference night in/night out of any in the nation and B) the Orange can still play with the elite when focused and prepared.
The historic bugaboo of free throw shooting for the Orange turned into a strength at the end of the game. Syracuse now has as many wins over ranked teams as anyone in the nation (six). And most importantly the fear of a collapse down the stretch and early exit from the B.E.T. would mean a stressful Selection Sunday is null and void. No matter what happens the rest of the way, SU punched its ticket last night.
The Per’fesser has always had a trump card to pull when needing an extra jolt to his team: attacking the media. He did so following the West Virginia win (although surely planting the seed before the game to his team). The Orange survived a scare over the weekend against Rutgers and pulled the upset last night. Maybe it was petty. Maybe it was planned. Whatever it was, it worked.
Just two more games to go for the Orange, the challenge of Georgetown in D.C., the breather of DePaul at the Dome (let’s hope). Then it’s time to sit back and enjoy the greatest successive five days of college basketball in the world. What will prove to be a cage match Big East tournament – no less than eight teams with a chance to cut down the nets at MSG.
If Scoop plays well, and Rick rebounds, and opponents don’t shoot the lights out, and Triche creates, and the bench is dependable… well, the Orange can play with anybody. It’s a lot of ifs, but last night proved it’s still possible.