The NCAA Tournament is always full of surprises and filling out a bracket feels the same as filling out a lottery ticket. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why they play games.
But this tournament has been different. The biggest underdog story of them all hasn’t been a mid-major.
No George Mason.
No Jimmy Valvano inspired N.C. State.
It’s been perennial basketball powerhouse Syracuse University and the college basketball world has been up in arms about it from the start. But with a shocking Final Four appearance looming this weekend all the naysayers can do now is eat crow. Maybe the team and Syracuse fans alike should be thanking them for doubting all along.
It hasn’t been easy for this team in particular. They’ve encountered enough distraction, penalties, and hate to make most teams fold. They weren’t the cause of last year’s postseason ban, losing Coach Boeheim for 9 games this season or a scholarship reduction that cost the team talent. They’ve had to pay for other people’s mistakes and former players like Fab Melo thinking “skool wuz hawd”. This should have been a dark time in the history of the program.
But names like Gbinije, Cooney, Lydon, Richardson, Roberson and Coleman don’t seem to care what scouts, stats and analysts have to say. They’ve plowed through all the baggage hanging on the program this March proving that deserving’s got nothing to do with it. It’s what you do with the opportunity that matters.
They’re a team playing with house money. When you’re not “supposed to be there” and everyone doubts you, what do you have to lose? Finally these guys got the break they needed at the right time.
Much more talented Syracuse teams have gone down in flames in the NCAA Tournament. First round losses to #13 seeded Vermont in 2005 and #12 seeded Texas A & M in 2006 come to mind. Those teams were deserving of their high seeds and expectations. This 2017 team in most people’s eyes wasn’t. That’s what makes this version of The Orange more deserving of remembrance.
Yes I’m a Syracuse Alumni. And I’ll be the first one to admit when I was filling out my soon to be busted bracket a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see Syracuse on there. After all the drama surrounding the program and Coach Boeheim missing 9 games I figured this season would be rather unremarkable and forgettable.
I kept up with the team’s record. I knew when they lost to 8-24 St. John’s. I was upset when they lost to a bad 15-18 Georgetown team (you still suck). And when they lost to Pitt for the 3rd time this season in their opening ACC Tournament game I thought, eh, maybe NIT. Certainly not the NCAA Tournament with a 19-13 record. Hell their record against other tournament teams was 4-8.
Would they have won a few more games if Boeheim wasn’t suspended? Maybe. But people won’t remember their regular season. And they shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter. Much like their last 2 matchups against Gonzaga and #1 seed Virginia, it matters how you finish.
Syracuse could have limped into the Tournament distracted by the noise, sanctions, and Doug Gottlieb’s of the world saying they don’t belong. They could have lost in the first round to Dayton giving everyone the chance to say, “told you so.”
Instead, it’s all been fuel for the fire that this team caught on. Motivation and the will to prove yourself can be just as powerful as talent. And if there’s enough left in the tank for two more games, Syracuse, a #10 seed, will be the lowest seeded team ever to win the national championship. If the NCAA Tournament’s taught us anything over the years, as long as there’s time left on the clock, there’s a chance.
On Saturday night Syracuse faces a heavily favored North Carolina team with future NBA millionaires on it. Whether Cinderella’s slippers prove to be orange or Cuse’s beloved mascot Otto turns into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight and the game is over, one thing’s for sure. The 2016-2017 Syracuse Basketball Team should be remembered for a long time to come.