I think the headline pretty much speaks for itself, yet here I am, about to dive right into a bunch of rambling nonsense as I try to collect my thoughts on what Syracuse University is itself calling one of the biggest weekends in the history of the athletics department.
No, seriously, they are:
— Syracuse Athletics (@Cuse) April 1, 2016
And really, who can argue? That graphic doesn’t even really mention the fact that the men’s lacrosse centennial celebration is taking place (yes, the’ve got a little logo but if you weren’t aware otherwise, you wouldn’t realize it with a quick glance).
The football spring game and the two Final Four games are obviously going to get the most attention, because while Syracuse is basically the center of the college lacrosse universe, historically, football and basketball will always be the biggest attention getters. Right now, though, I’m going to focus mainly on basketball, and what should be one hell of a fun weekend.
I jokingly tweeted a couple weeks ago that it’d be cool if the Syracuse women’s basketball team continued its run through the tournament, and found themselves facing UConn and Breanna Stewart in the championship game. Why? Well, because Stewart was born and raised in Syracuse, of course, and how freaking cool would it be for arguably the best women’s basketball player on the planet to play her final college game against her hometown team?
Now, the chances of Syracuse knocking off UConn (if the Orange get to the title game) are slim, because UConn is absurdly unfair. This is a team that, if you keep the margin to single digits, it should count as a win. That said, the Orange women have a good shot at making it to the championship game as they take on the No. 7-seed, Washington, on Sunday night. The Orange already beat Washington early in the season, 66-62, out in Las Vegas, and Syracuse is playing its best basketball of the year right now. A dance with UConn looks not only possible, but perhaps even likely.
It’s been an historic season for the Syracuse women, too. This is, by any metric, the best single season in Syracuse women’s basketball history. They’ve never been ranked higher in the national polls, they’ve never before made it to a Final Four, and the team’s 29 wins are basically unheard of compared to previous years and generations.
And that’s why it almost, in a way, sucks that the Syracuse men decided to make this miraculous run to the Final Four, once again swooping in and stealing a bit of the thunder away from the Orange women. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that the Syracuse men made this run. I’ll be ecstatic if the Orange win on Saturday night, and play for the championship on Monday.
I’ll be thrilled in large part because I’ll actually have the chance to be in attendance on Monday night, if Syracuse does indeed knock off North Carolina to move on to the title game.
I was a senior at Syracuse during the 2002-2003 season, so I got a chance to root the Orangemen on to a national championship that year. It was, without question, the best way to end my four years at Syracuse, given I’ve been a lifelong, die-hard Orange fan who – and this isn’t a joke – knew who Pearl Washington was before I was aware of George Washington, as a kid.
But I didn’t get to attend the Final Four that year, and that’s always been a regret. I went to the regionals in Albany, and that was an amazing experience. I actually had the tickets for the Final Four in my hands, and one of my best friends from high school was going to college in New Orleans, so accommodations wouldn’t have been a problem. But unfortunately, we just couldn’t figure out affordable transportation to get down there, and were stuck watching the games in our apartment on Euclid.
In retrospect, that’s not such a bad thing. It was amazing being on campus as the team first defeated Texas in the semifinals behind one of the best Final Four performances I’ve ever seen, from Carmelo Anthony. And Marshall Street? My god, it was unbelievable – both that night, and on Monday as we cut down the nets and won our first national title.
A little head’s up for any Syracuse students reading this: if you think things got crazy last weekend, just wait. If Syracuse beats UNC tomorrow night…well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
But can Syracuse actually beat the Tar Heels? Obviously, on any given night, anyone can beat anyone. UNC has beaten Syracuse twice this year, but it’s worth noting that Jim Boeheim almost never loses to the same team three times in a season. And in his four previous Final Four trips, he’s got a 3-1 record. He’s also beaten Roy Williams two out of three times the two have squared off in the NCAA Tournament, including in the 1996 Elite Eight and, of course, the 2003 title game.
North Carolina doesn’t shoot the ball like Virginia, or Middle Tennessee, or even Gonzaga. Yeah, they’ve got some guys who can make shots, like Marcus Paige and Joel Berry, but that’s not the team’s bread and butter. No, the way the Tar Heels beat people is by running, and pounding them on the glass. UNC boasts a ton of big, athletic players, and if Tyler Roberson, Tyler Lydon, and Dajuan Coleman get into foul trouble, it could be serious trouble for the Orange.
Despite the distinct size advantage, UNC really hasn’t dominated Syracuse on the glass in the two meetings this year. Syracuse actually out-boarded UNC in the Dome, and the margin was 38-30 in UNC’s favor at Chapel Hill. Roberson in particular needs to keep up his outstanding play on the boards if Syracuse is going to have a chance. The Orange are simply a different team when he rebounds well. How Roberson and the other Syracuse forwards do on the boards will be the biggest key in the game, as well as how well the Orange are able to defend along the back line of the 2-3.
It’s a fun weekend to be Orange. Hopefully, the fun will continue from a men’s basketball standpoint past the Final Four.