Syracuse Basketball has made it to the Final Four six times in program history. Each one is special in its own way. Amazing games, amazing players, amazing memories. Fizz Four: Final Four Runs is a series where we rank the top March Madness runs Syracuse Basketball has had.
No. 2: 2016 Final Four
A 19-12 regular season is nothing to be pleased about. To put that in perspective, Syracuse finished 17-14 this past year and there were cries of defeat from fans (and me). So in 2015-2016 when the Orange finished with only 19 wins, got bounced from the ACC Tournament in the first round, and lost five of their last six bouts, there weren’t too high of hopes for the NCAA Tournament.
But then one of the strangest things in March Madness history happened. No, it wasn’t a 16 seed upsetting a 1 seed. No, it didn’t happen during a game. It happened before the tournament even began. The bracket was leaked before the selection show. In the leaked bracket Syracuse was a 10 seed, which shocked most and made people believe it was a hoax. But, in due time they found that it wasn’t and Syracuse headed to Missouri for the first round.
In that first game, #10 Syracuse took on #7 Dayton. Despite being underdogs, the Orange dominated the second half, outsourcing the Flyers 40-23. Malachi Richardson, one of multiple stars on the roster that year, poured in 21 points to lead his team to a 70-51 victory.
With one upset complete, Syracuse actually went into the second round as the better seed when they faced #15 Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were coming off an upset of their own to #2 Michigan State. This time it was the Michael Gbinije show, who played 38 minutes while tallying 23 points. Coincidentally, 23 points is all Middle Tennessee scored in the second half, as Syracuse easily grabbed a 75-50 win.
Now here is where it gets interesting– the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange get another lucky break as they run into #11 Gonzaga, who pulled off two upsets prior (#6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah). The Zags had all the momentum going into that game and it showed from the start. Syracuse was down by 11 at one point in the first half, but put together a comeback before the break. The same thing happened in the second half. The Zags got up, but Syracuse went on a 9-3 run in the final three minutes to pull out a 63-60 win. Gbinije led all scorers again, but it was Tyler Lydon who was the star with six blocks including a big one in the final seconds. Lydon was also the one who knocked down two free throws with two seconds left to seal the victory. On to the Elite Eight for Syracuse.
In the Elite Eight Syracuse didn’t catch another break. The Orange weren’t the better seed this time. This time they had to take on #1 Virginia, who had already beat them once before that season. If you only watched the first half, you would have thought it was going to be a blowout in favor of the Cavaliers. They were up 35-21 at the half, but somehow Cardiac Cuse did its thing again and rallied from down 14 in the final ten minutes to take down Virginia 68-65.
The win sent SU to its sixth Final Four in program history. Plus, Syracuse was only the fourth double-digit seed to make it to the national semifinals since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Syracuse’s luck ran out in the Final Four though. The Orange had to take on another #1 seed, this time it was North Carolina. The Tar Heels were dominant on both sides of the court and easily handled SU 83-66.
It was a Cinderella run of all Cinderella runs. A team that shouldn’t have even made it to the NCAA Tournament. A team that was projected to barely make it to the NIT. A team that had no expectations got all the way to the Final Four.