This Syracuse team was left for dead by almost all of us. They looked outgunned in its slog through the end of the regular season. It seemed over its head in the ACC Tournament. It seemed the clock was already ticking the moment the brackets came out (even though Syracuse was in the field of 68). There was no way even the most optimistic of SU fans felt like we would be watching the Orange in the Final Four.
Yet, here we are. First off, let’s address the orange elephant in the room: Yes, the draw helped fuel this. Had SU had to play Michigan State in the second round, or Utah in the Sweet 16, we are probably not talking about Jim Boeheim’s 5th Final Four appearance. SU knocked off Virginia in a madcap comeback, surging to a lead late in the second half, and holding off a very good (but offensively challenged) Cavs squad. But could SU have done that to the Spartans, the Utes AND then the Cavaliers? Perhaps, but unlikely.
So yes, there is a bit of luck in all this. Dayton may have been the most vulnerable 7-seed. The other sevens were all major conference squads (Oregon State, Wisconsin, and Iowa). To not play a power conference program until the Elite 8 allowed this SU team to build its confidence, get into a rhythm, and sort out its March roles. The draw, the matchups, and the upsets all assisted in pushing SU this far.
However, there have been so many times through the years that SU’s fate was cruel and a tad unfair. There have been a number of brackets that took the knife out and twisted into Otto’s back. So there is definitely some karmic payback going on right now.
In ’86 an SU team that went 14-2 in the rugged Big East and was a two-seed ran into one of the greatest collegiate players of all-time in David Robinson, and lost in the second round to 7-seeded Navy.
The ’87 squad famously lost on Keith Smart’s jumper in the championship game. If that doesn’t fall, or SU makes its free throws, Boeheim would’ve had his first championship and who knows how different history is.
The ’89 team was only the second Boeheim team ever to win 30 games, and some felt was even better than the ’87 version that went to the title game. That ’89 squad had almost all of the pieces that was within a whisker of winning it all two years earlier (plus Billy Owens), and lost to an Illinois team in the Elite 8 that had two future NBA standouts on it, Kendall Gill and Nick Anderson (one of the best teams in Illini history). SU would’ve played Michigan and Seton Hall in the Final Four, both winnable games.
How about the ’00 version running into a historic machine in the Sweet 16 – Michigan State and the Flint-stones, Tom Izzo’s only title?
The ’05 squad that earned a 4-seed, and many comparisons to the title team in ’03, that was shot down by the night if T.J. Sorrentine’s life? What could that run have looked like that Vermont not played out of its mind for 40 minutes?
And the ’12 team may have been Boeheim’s greatest ever, going 34-3 (losing only once in a terrific Big East conference) and dancing into the Elite 8. SU lost to an excellent Ohio State team in Boston, a game where questionable officiating doomed the Orange down the stretch.
SU has had its share of heartaches, the March Madness Gods rarely giving the Orange a break. So often an unfair twist of fate ended it all. To finally feel “lucky” in the tournament? That’s just not a normal occurrence in Orange Land. No need to feel guilty. Yeah, there’s been some great fortune. But we were finally due.
Posted: Damon Amendolara