The door to a deep March run for Syracuse may open or close with a potential second-round matchup against Xavier. It will be the last game in Cleveland for the Orange, and would launch Syracuse back to the NYC Metro to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
It’s too much of a stretch to begin conjuring up images of the 2003 title run, but that squad did get an enormous lift from playing “home games” in both Albany and Boston. Comparatively speaking, Ohio State, North Carolina or Kentucky (the three other top seeds in the region) won’t have nearly the presence SU would playing just outside New York City. Remember, the Orange also played up the Garden State Parkway from Newark, in East Rutherford, during their magical run to the ’96 Final Four.
We know how Orange Nation fills the joint for the Big East tournament, and games in Newark wouldn’t be much different. For CNYers, it’s about a four-hour drive. For alumni and fans in the five-boroughs and Jersey, it’s a stop on the PATH train. While the Selection Committee did the Orange no favors by placing it in a pod with the top-overall seed, the dangerous Tar Heels and Wildcats, and a potential second-round game against a Big East team that’s already beaten SU this season, the Newark draw is a huge equalizer.
While the Musketeers are only a 6-seed, they won 24 games in one of the toughest mid-major conferences in America, the A-10. They also have shooters that can lay waste to the zone. CBS Sports’ Seth Davis already predicted an upset by Xavier over Syracuse on the Selection Sunday Show. On SI.com, while Stewart Mandel believes SU could make a deep run, Davis didn’t back off his prognostication.
“My Cinderella in this region is Xavier. This is a team that had some injury and personnel issues losing guys to academics before the start of the season. But they’ve been on an absolute tear. Last week I told you about a high impact player named Tue Holloway. I think that their guard play and their ability to hit perimeter shots, I love them in that potential second-round matchup against Syracuse. I actually think they can upset North Carolina. I’ve got Xavier in the Elite 8.”
The Orange will face Indiana State on Friday night, a matchup against a #14 seed SU should have little problem with. Then comes the duel with the Musketeers. Some believe young UNC is primed for an upset at the hands of the Huskies in the second-round. The ‘Cuse against an inexperienced Carolina team, a seven-seeded UW or even the best team in the field, Ohio State? You’ll take your chances with an Orange-laden crowd in Newark energizing SU.
The Musketeers will be playing in their home-state on Sunday, an advantage that could ironically end up sinking the Orange. There’s always been magic for the ‘Cuse when playing in New York or New Jersey. But to find the end of the rainbow, it’s all about getting past Xavier first.