An epic Big East Tournament run is over and selection Sunday is just a few short hours away. In the post-game press conference after the Louisville game, Jim Boeheim said that "five years from now, there's going to be two things people remember about this Syracuse basketball season. Two and only two -- the Connecticut Syracuse game and how we do in the tournament." He's absolutely right. Which brings us to the next question - just how much damage can this team do in the big dance?
Obviously, I'm wearing Orange colored glasses, but the answer is pretty damn far. This team has beaten two teams being considered for number one seeds, and they had a third potential number one seed in Louisville on the ropes last night before running out gas. Unlike past years, there's no true beast in college basketball that has truly dominated the competition. North Carolina would be the closest, and as we saw yesterday, they aren't the same team without Ty Lawson. While Lawson says he'll be ready to play, will he be the same? Only time will tell.
Right now Syracuse represents a dangerous match up for opponents because Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf can spread out a defense with their ability to shoot ball, which opens up lanes for Jonny Flynn to drive to the hoop, and right now there's not a human on the planet that can stay in front of him. Paul Harris brings rebounding, Kristof has been playing like he's hair is one fire -- doing the little things no one else on the team wants to do -- and Arinze Onuaku is finally healthy. You also cannot discount the emotional lift that UConn game gave this team. When you beat a team in 6 overtimes and you didn't lead until the last one, that's all I need to know about this team's will to win.
The last 5 years of Syracuse basketball haven't gone as well as anyone would have liked --but for the first time since the 2004-05 season, this team is officially dangerous. After the elation of making the tournament wears off, no team is going to want to see Syracuse staring back at them in their bracket - and that feels awesome.
A few other miscellaneous thoughts running through my head.
The Fatigue Factor
I'm sure people will bring up the fatigue factor of Syracuse essentially playing 5 games in 4 days and that hurting their chances in the NCAAs -- and use 2006 as an example. I personally don't buy that argument. The 2006 team lost because Gerry McNamara was injured, not fatigued. Gerry was also that team's primary scorer and carrying the weight of the offense. Other than 4 days in NYC, that team struggled all year, had a losing conference record and was memorably ass raped by 40 points by an average DePaul team.
The fact the Boeheim uses an extremely short bench demands that this team be in shape - and they are. There have been no reported injuries (knock on wood) and I expect them to be pumped up and ready to go. They've been waiting 3 years for this tournament, they'll be ready.
As I said, the last few years have been frustrating --since the upset loss to Vermont, the team has been screwed out of an NCAA tournament bid, been plagued with injuries and inconsistency and made back to back appearances in the NIT. It hasn't been fun, but it points out something that we all lose sight of -- winning college basketball games isn't easy. Don't believe me? Ask a St. John's fan. There are nearly 350 schools playing Division I college basketball, competing for players and trying to make the NCAA tournament. We're so damn lucky that Jim Boeheim has been able to lead this program to nearly 800 wins, 3 final fours and a national title. There's a fine line between being a perennial contender and being St. Johns - and it's coaching that makes the difference. For every coach like Boeheim that has had success, there are 20 guys like Norm Roberts and Fred Hill - guys that can't coach their way out of wet paper sack.
While it's great to have a Syracuse team back in the mix - we shouldn't be surprised, because the guy with the whiny voice and glasses who prowls the sideline knows what he's doing.
Get your brackets ready people, it's going to be fun.