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. 1: 2003 Final Four
Could it really have been any other season? I mean come on. This was an easier choice than picking what concessions you want at the Dome (Dome nachos always).
Syracuse entered the 2002-2003 season unranked and holding on to +3500 championship odds (for our non-betters out there, those are very low odds). A young freshman, Carmelo Anthony, was all the hype going into the year. One of the best recruits in the country chose the Orange and carried them on his back through the regular season, finishing with a 23-4 regular season record. After a disappointing second-round bounce from the Big East Tournament, Syracuse entered the NCAA Tournament as a three-seed. And so it began…
The First Round was no breeze for Syracuse as it took on 14-seeded Manhattan. The Orange only held onto a four-point lead at the half, but the bench picked it up in the second. Billy Edelin, Josh Pace and Jeremy McNeill contributed a combined 29 points on 13-16 shooting. Their efforts pushed the four-point halftime lead to an eleven-point lead at the final buzzer. The Orange squeezed by the Jaspers 76-65 to move on.
It was more of the same in the Second Round when Syracuse faced six-seeded Oklahoma State. A rocky start by the Orange put them in a 27-10 hole in the first half. The Cowboys’ defense, led by future NBA-starter Tony Allen, held Melo and Gerry McNamara without a field goal in the first frame. The bench combined with a harassing full-court press got the Orange back into it and eventually pushed them to a 68-56 win.
If you weren’t worried about this team by now, the Sweet Sixteen will get you there. After two shaky games, Syracuse squared off against ten-seeded Auburn. This time it was the Orange who started hot, but faltered later. The zone worked well in the first half, holding the Tigers to just 27 points. But in the second, Auburn went OFF for 51 (!!) points. It scared SU, but Anthony and Hakim Warrick made sure they got the win with a final score of 79-78.
Your heart is racing right? Well, if you watched these games it would have been. Cardiac Cuse was alive and well in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, but somehow the Orange made it to the Elite Eight by the skin of their teeth. Now, they had to face the top of the top. Of the eight teams remaining at that point, only one of them was higher than a three-seed.
In the Elite Eight, Syracuse lined up across from one-seeded Oklahoma. The Orange put together their best defensive performance of the year and held the Sooners, who were ranked in the top-10 all season, to just 47 points. Anthony turned in a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Plus, Warrick was just one board away from his own double-double. The game ended 63-47 in favor of Syracuse and sent the Orange to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Another one-seed was waiting for Syracuse in the Final Four. This time it was Texas. The Orange drank Michael’s Secret Stuff (please tell me you get the reference) before this game because their offense was on fire. SU shot 57% from the field and had four double-digit scorers– Melo with 33, McNamara with 19, Warrick with 18, and Pace with 12. That offensive burst gave Syracuse a 96-84 victory. Oh, and this happened…
The win sent Syracuse to its third National Championship in program history, where it would face two-seeded Kansas. The offense stayed hot as the Orange scored 53 points in just the first half. McNamara showed why he is the best shooter in program history, knocking down six 3’s. it wouldn’t have been a fitting end if Anthony didn’t lead the way. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Plus, Warrick made The Block that sealed the game.
Syracuse grabbed an 81-78 victory for its first, and only, National Championship in program history.
It was a Final Four run of all Final Four runs. A rocky start concluded with a strong finish, pieces of nets tied on hats, and a championship trophy.