This winter has been brutal all over the country; the Super Bowl was a dud on the field and during the commercial breaks; the Winter Olympics are shaping up to be a disaster; and CM Punk recently quit WWE. It’s a grim time for America. But just when it seems there’s nothing to look forward to, college basketball saves the day. We got a taste of March Madness in early February last week, as 16 of the Top 25 teams lost over a seven-day span (including half of the top 10). College basketball is like the most loyal dog you ever had. Hey, buddy! I know you’re miserable about the weather and because you’re a Vikings fan who lives in a world where Tarvaris Jackson has more Super Bowl rings than any Vikings player ever. But what if I told you I love you and you’re my best friend and I have a bunch of upsets for you and the NCAA tournament is right around the corner?
Whenever you’re feeling down, just tell yourself we’re six weeks from Selection Sunday and the Final Four picture is as fuzzy as it was in October. If that doesn’t keep you going, then you must be a heartless ogre.
And if you are a heartless ogre and you need more than the promise of March Madness to bring light to your life, then imagine the day someone finally uploads a 20-minute YouTube supercut of Bill Raftery saying “man-to-man” after games tip off.1
This was the closest I could find. It’s about 19 minutes and 30 seconds shorter than it needs to be, though.
Villanova fans roasted me for the past two weeks because I left the Wildcats out of the most powerful power rankings in college basketball, as though Creighton hadn’t just torn Villanova a new one so big that Jared Lorenzen could have crawled through it. Well, listen here, Villanova fans: I got my driver’s license in the summer of 2003, when “Shake Ya Tailfeather” was as popular as “Blurred Lines” was in 2013. If I can survive the summer of “HOLY SHIT IS THAT A COP WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I DO WHAT — dammit, Nelly, you got me again” as a first-time driver, you can bet your ass that your angry tweets do nothing to me. So now that Villanova has made it back into the top 12, know that your campaigning had nothing do with it. The Wildcats earned this.
Last week, Villanova didn’t make the cut because I felt it hadn’t yet washed off the stench from the Creighton game. I didn’t overreact to that pasting and write off Villanova forever just because Creighton had a historically great shooting night. At the same time, Villanova scored only nine second-half points in that game before Creighton pulled its starters, and that can’t be attributed to Creighton’s shooting. My first thought was that Villanova just ran up against a buzz saw that night, and I expected the Wildcats to bounce back in its next couple games. Well, they didn’t. Instead, the Wildcats squeaked by Marquette and Georgetown, two teams that might be on the NIT bubble by the end of the season.
This week, however, with so many ranked teams losing and Villanova’s blowouts over Temple and Xavier, the Wildcats have played their way back into the most powerful power rankings in college basketball. I’d be lying, however, if I said I didn’t remain skeptical of how good they are. They’ve played only two marquee teams since November, and both times they were humiliated. Again, we can point to several caveats and remember that it’s dangerous to assume too much about a team based off of two bad games, but the fact remains that Villanova needs a signature win in 2014. It’ll get its chance February 16 when the Wildcats rematch Creighton in Omaha.
11. Michigan State
Maybe I’m a Big Ten homer and I should be harder on Michigan State for losing to Georgetown, but part of me thinks that game shouldn’t even count against the Spartans. I don’t want to take a huge win away from Georgetown, but come on — Michigan State came into that game shorthanded, it had just played a rivalry game followed by an exhausting overtime win, and it had little to gain against Georgetown.
Have you ever been hammered at a bar when a friend you haven’t seen in years walks in? You know what happens next: You throw your arm around him, ask how he’s been, and inevitably say, “We should get together more often.” A week later an alert on your phone tells you you’re supposed to grab lunch with your old pal the next day. As you curse yourself for making plans with someone you’ve never hung out with when there were fewer than 10 other people around, you rack your brain for an excuse to get out of it. Then, when you come up empty, you decide to suck it up and get it over with.
I think that happened to Michigan State against Georgetown. I’m pretty sure that when Tom Izzo and John Thompson III bumped into each other on the AAU circuit last summer, they got blasted at a Red Lobster and Thompson suggested their teams play each other at Madison Square Garden the day before the Super Bowl. “Well,” Izzo responded, “we do have over a week off in our Big Ten schedule at that time. And think of all the celebrities who will be in town for the Super Bowl! Two marquee teams going head-to-head in front of a star-studded crowd? I gotta say, John — this idea is verrrryyy niiiiiiccceeee!!!”2
I like to imagine Izzo busts out the Borat voice when he’s drunk, because it’s more fun that way
Then the season begins, Michigan State’s injuries pile up as Georgetown struggles, and Izzo tries to weasel out of playing the game. He starts to leave a voicemail on Thompson’s phone: “Listen, John, I know I said we’d play you guys, but something has come up. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make—”
Thompson picks up and cuts Izzo off: “Bullshit, Tom. You looked me in the eye and told me this game would happen. You said I had your word. I don’t care how injured you are or how much your last two games took out of you. What about me, Tom? I’ve lost five straight! I need this! Where is your honor? You will play this game, you son of a bitch.”
“You’re right,” Izzo says with defeat in his voice. “You’re absolutely right. I need to take responsibility for my actions. It’s just that ever since Mateen left I’ve—”
Thompson cuts him off again: “I don’t want to hear it. Just show up for the game, OK?” Thompson hangs up as Izzo sighs and knows there’s nothing he can do about it now. And that explains how Michigan State lost a game that, injuries or not, it had no business losing.
Michigan’s loss Sunday at Indiana didn’t surprise me, mostly because I’ve prepared myself mentally for anything with this Indiana team, but also because I knew Michigan had to cool off eventually. Assembly Hall is one of the toughest gyms in the country for visiting teams that aren’t Northwestern, Indiana plays great defense, and Michigan’s offense had been executing at an unsustainably high level. I expected to see some regression. What I didn’t expect was a complete crash-and-burn.
During its 10-game winning streak, Michigan seemed like it had no idea that, in the eyes of most college basketball experts, it wasn’t supposed to be that good. When the Wolverines played poorly for stretches of games, they still had a “We got this!” vibe that helped them bounce back and win. And when things were going well, the Wolverines’ body language was so in-your-face that they made broadcasters who are old enough to be grandparents repeatedly utter the word “swagger” on national television. Every Michigan basket was followed by loose butthole monocles, Faith Hilling, chest bumps, taunting claps, kisses being blown, and maybe even some pelvic thrusts that weren’t caught on camera. There was none of that Sunday. In fact, most of Michigan’s players looked like they didn’t want to be there.
Nik Stauskas was particularly disappointing. Yogi Ferrell deserves credit for the defense he played on Stauskas, and Michigan probably could have done more to get Stauskas open. But the mere fact that Stauskas struggled doesn’t concern me nearly as much as how — for the first time since Duke beat Michigan two months ago — Stauskas looked completely checked out. It’s as if he were thinking:
Let’s hope this was a one-time problem for Michigan and the team will regain its confidence quickly. Derrick Walton, who has been shaky for most of the nonconference season, has come on strong in the last three games, so if Stauskas returns to form, Glenn Robinson III plays to his potential, and Caris LeVert continues his breakout season, Michigan can stay in the Big Ten driver’s seat. But if Sunday was a preview of a looming collapse, then the Wolverines are about to be eaten alive by a February schedule that has them at Iowa, at Ohio State, vs. Wisconsin, and vs. Michigan State in consecutive games.
Creighton last played on January 28 and the Bluejays don’t play again until Friday, which leaves me with little to work with this week. Let’s see: I could discuss how America is so used to Doug McDermott having amazing games that he has somehow become both the best and most underappreciated player in college basketball. I could talk about how Creighton super-senior Grant Gibbs could return from injury any day now, which would provide the Bluejays with another experienced guy who knows his role and isn’t afraid to do the (sometimes a little too dirty) dirty work. Or we could just rewatch highlights from the Villanova game. Yep, that’s what I was thinking, too.
In my preview of the AAC, I labeled Mick Cronin as my “coach on the hot seat.” This wasn’t because I thought Cronin’s job should be in jeopardy, but because I thought he faced a ton of pressure with Cincinnati moving from the best conference in the history of college basketball to a conference full of teams that were considered mid-majors a decade ago. Bob Huggins set a standard for Cincinnati basketball in the ’90s and early 2000s the Bearcats hadn’t been living up to in recent years. Now that Cronin’s team was going to play against lesser competition, I wondered if he could get the Bearcats back to national prominence or if he would continue putting decent-but-not-great teams on the floor.
I didn’t expect the answer to come quite this fast. Cronin not only has the Bearcats back in the national picture, he has actually helped Cincinnati become a legitimate national title threat and he’s my current pick for national coach of the year. The best part is that he’s doing it with a team that might be more Hugginsesque than any Cincinnati team Huggins coached. If you saw the first half of the Louisville game, you know what I’m talking about. It took the Cardinals — the defending national champions and a team that came into the contest averaging 83 points per game — 14 minutes to reach double-digit points, and the Bearcats held the Cardinals to a score of 20 in the first half. I’m still surprised ESPN didn’t cut the feed or at least flash a parental warning on the screen. Cincinnati’s defensive display was NSFW and could have permanently scarred any children who saw it.
Sure, Louisville scored 46 second-half points and erased a 17-point lead in the blink of an eye. But that was because Cincinnati kept turning the ball over, not because the Bearcats defense became slack. Here’s what matters about Cincinnati: It has some grown-ass men playing against a bunch of boys. The Bearcats are long, athletic, physical, experienced, versatile, and have a nasty edge that might make me soil myself if I had to play against them. I mean that. I have no idea how opposing players don’t just curl into the fetal position and start sucking their thumbs after five minutes of playing against Cincinnati’s defense. I’d probably fake an injury to avoid playing them. I’d pull $100 bills out of my sock and offer them to Bearcats players to lay off me. If all else failed, I’d just fall to my knees and start sobbing.
At some point, you have to figure that Cincinnati’s offensive struggles will cost them in a big game. For now, however, the Bearcats are riding a 14-game winning streak during which they won at Memphis and at Louisville. And while almost none of those wins would be classified as “pretty,” an ugly 21-2 beats the hell out of a pretty 15-8.
After about a month of playing their best basketball of the season, the Jayhawks came out flat in their last two games. At Texas, this proved to be a problem. Yes, letdown games are prone to happen with young teams like Kansas. Yes, Kansas battled foul trouble all game. And yes, Texas is playing really well and it was at home. This doesn’t look like an extremely damaging loss for the defending Big 12 champions. But I did feel one pang of concern after watching that game, because I got the sense that Texas wanted it more. The Longhorns were more aggressive from start to finish: They outrebounded Kansas, they drew 31 fouls on the Jayhawks, they scored 81 points despite making only three 3s, and they completely negated Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. You can break down the game possession-by-possession and dissect all the X’s and O’s (by the way, Rick Barnes is coaching just well enough to keep his job, which I’m sure is exciting for Texas fans), but what jumped out time and time again was that winning this game mattered much more to Texas than it did to Kansas.
In its next game, Tuesday against Baylor, Kansas seemed to start on the same aloof note, but Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis did enough in the first half to hold off the Bears until the rest of the Jayhawks woke up.3 Once that happened, Kansas’s defense suffocated the Bears (Baylor shot 29 percent for the game). The Jayhawks dominated the boards (45 rebounds to Baylor’s 31) and ran away with a 17-point win. Tharpe finished one point shy of his career high just days after Wayne Selden scored 21 against Texas, which makes me wonder what will happen when all five Kansas starters bring their offensive A-game at the same time. It hasn’t happened yet. Sure, there are only so many possessions to spread around, so it’s not like the entire starting five will score 20 points in the same game. But that’s not the goal. Kansas wants to get Selden engaged every game like he was against Texas, it wants to get Tharpe locked in like he was against Baylor, and then it wants to add peak Embiid and Wiggins with a dash of Perry Ellis doing the little things. Can you imagine how dominant Kansas would be if that happened night in and night out? I’m guessing Bill Self can, and I bet it drives him crazy to see his team fall short of those heights.
The first made field goal from Wiggins or Embiid from inside the half-court line came at the 9:28 mark in the second half.
It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.
During Saturday’s Syracuse-Duke game in the Carrier Dome, how did Dick Vitale end up talking about Kansas?
A. During a discussion about Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, Dan Shulman mentions that the two coaches have become good friends since coaching Team USA. Vitale asks Shulman if he can name the four coaches other than Coach K who have won both an Olympic gold medal and a national championship. Shulman says Bob Knight, Dean Smith, and Larry Brown. Vitale cuts him off to explain that Knight and Smith are correct, but the other two are Pete Newell and Henry Iba. He then reminds Shulman that Brown won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, although he did win a national title in 1988 at Kansas.
B. Shulman tells viewers that the Miami Heat and New York Knicks will play each other following the game. ESPN shows a graphic comparing Shane Battier, who played at Duke and now plays for the Heat, to Carmelo Anthony, who played at Syracuse and now plays for the Knicks. Vitale points out that each won a national championship. Shulman adds that Battier played for the legendary 2001 Duke team alongside Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Chris Duhon. Then Vitale says that Anthony’s teammates weren’t bad either, with Hakim Warrick and current Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara. Vitale then reminds the audience that McNamara made six 3s in the 2003 national championship game against Kansas.
C. ESPN cameras cut to Dave Bing, who was roommates with Jim Boeheim when the two of them played at Syracuse. Vitale says younger viewers might not know about Bing, but he’s a legend in Syracuse and in Detroit, where the Pistons drafted him and where he served as mayor from 2009 through 2013. After a beat, Vitale uses the mention of Detroit as a segue to say that Michigan and Michigan State are his picks for the two best teams in the Big Ten. Shulman asks Vitale if he thinks the Big Ten is the best conference in the country, and Vitale says yes, but he also explains that he really likes the Big 12 because of its depth and a great team at the top in Kansas.
“In all seriousness, the upcoming game at Cal is the best bet for Arizona’s first loss. Not only is Cal currently the second-best team in the Pac-12, but the Bears are playing at home and the game falls two days after Arizona’s trip to Stanford. I can see Cal getting jacked up for the game because it needs a marquee win to cement its NCAA tournament bid. I can also imagine Arizona being a combination of complacent and tired, Nick Johnson getting into foul trouble, and the Bears winning in a dramatic finish.”
—Me, two weeks ago
I promise I’m not just bringing this up to brag that I called everything about the Arizona-Cal game. Yes, Arizona looked tired, Cal looked jacked up, Nick Johnson finished with four fouls, and the Bears won on a last-second shot. But, as tough as it might be, please refrain from telling me how smart I am, or that my college basketball opinion is the only one that matters. The truth is that not even a drunk Mike Tyson with a pistol in one hand and a jar of applesauce in the other is as unpredictable as college basketball, so some schlub like me predicting the results of a game two weeks in advance proves Arizona’s loss at Cal shouldn’t be considered a huge shock. In fact, I was actually impressed by Arizona in this game. That’s because everything that could’ve gone wrong for Arizona did go wrong, yet the Cats were still a bounce or two away from escaping with a win. Given all the close, ugly games Arizona has played in, an outcome like this seemed inevitable. I trust the Wildcats can put this loss behind them, which is why, barring something crazy, I still have Arizona on my short list of national title favorites.
Wait, what’s that? Brandon Ashley what? He’s out for the season?!
Shit just got real. This isn’t quite Kendall Marshall breaking his wrist in 2012, and it’s not even close to Kenyon Martin breaking his leg in 2000, but Arizona’s championship hopes are severely hampered by Ashley’s injury. Not counting the Cal game, where he got hurt after two minutes, Ashley is the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder.
But Arizona will miss his intangibles more than anything else. Ashley is the team’s most versatile and reliable offensive weapon. Nick Johnson has been great this season, and if the game is on the line I want the ball in his hands. Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski has the best field goal percentage of the regular rotation. But Johnson forces his offense a little too often (although many of his bad shots are taken out of necessity) and Zeus shoots so well because most of his points come from putbacks and drop-off passes. Ashley, on the other hand, almost never takes a bad shot, and he’s the only Wildcat who can score from anywhere on the court.
Finally, Arizona plays a tight, seven-man rotation, and losing any of its core guys for the rest of the season hurts dearly. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to fill Ashley’s role as the starting 4, but if I were Sean Miller, I’d slide Aaron Gordon to the 4 and start Gabe York in a three-guard lineup. I know size has been an advantage for Arizona all season, but a lineup of T.J. McConnell, Johnson, Gordon, Hollis-Jefferson, and Zeus would make Johnson the only outside scoring threat. Teams could play a packed-in man-to-man defense against Arizona, then double-team the post and dare McConnell, Johnson, and Gordon to beat them from outside, which they won’t be able to do with any consistency. Starting York, Arizona’s best shooter by a significant margin, provides a more balanced offensive attack and allows Miller to keep using Hollis-Jefferson as a reserve, since Arizona has no other reliable big guys to bring off the bench.
Whatever Miller decides, three things are clear: (1) Jordin Mayes is about to see his role increase dramatically, (2) Arizona isn’t as good today as it was a week ago, and (3) it is still good enough to win a national championship, but its margin of error is much smaller.
5. Wichita State
Bad news, Wichita State fans: I’ll be in Terre Haute tonight to see the Shockers play Indiana State, and I’ve had this game circled for weeks as the Shockers’ first loss of the season. Since I just nailed the prediction for Arizona’s first loss, I’d be a little worried if I were rooting for the Shockers.
(Note: I’m going to Syracuse-Pitt next week for the same reason. If Wichita State and Syracuse end up losing both of these games, my plan is to quit writing and just travel around America, jinxing undefeated teams on the road and charging home teams millions of dollars for my bad mojo.)
If Wichita State pulls out the win, I’ll devote a sizable chunk of next week’s column to my seeing the Shockers up close. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to let college basketball fans handle the Wichita State section. As you can imagine, being an undefeated team that has played zero ranked opponents tends to polarize fans on Twitter, but let’s try to comb through some tweets and reach a consensus on how good Wichita State is.
Mr. Pipes raises a good point. If Wichita State were in the ACC, it’d definitely be below Maryland and Clemson in the conference standings. Hard to argue with that, really, but let’s see if anybody has a solid counterpoint.
There you have it. I’m afraid America is split down the middle on this one. On one hand, Wichita State would “loose” a bunch of games if “there” in the ACC. But on the other hand, that white boy be killin and Wichita State is so nice that some would classify its level of niceness as “tooo.” Guess we’ll have to wait till March to know for sure.
4. San Diego State
San Diego State won a ho-hum matchup with Colorado State in the Aztecs’ only game this week. They jumped to a big lead, held the Rams to 20 first-half points, and then cruised to the win. For weeks, I’ve been saying that the Aztecs defense is great and that their offense could use some work, but I haven’t yet touched on how Winston Shepard will be the key to the Aztecs’ NCAA tournament success. You can count on two things in every San Diego State game: Opponents will struggle to score and Xavier Thames will carry the Aztecs offense. If Shepard can be a secondary scoring threat and alleviate the burden on Thames, he’ll help turn San Diego State from a good team into a great team.
Coming out of high school in 2012, Shepard was billed as the best recruit in San Diego State history (this isn’t quite true, seeing that Evan Burns was a McDonald’s All-American in 2002, but whatever). Shepard had a shaky freshman season, but he has been playing great in his sophomore year. He’s second on the team in points, assists, and steals; he’s third in rebounds and tied for third in blocks; and he’s really the only Aztecs other than Thames who can score 20-plus points in any given game. When San Diego State comes up against a good defensive team, that team is going to throw everything it has at Thames and make the rest of the Aztecs beat it. At that point, it will be up to Shepard to step up his scoring, and the way he’s been playing lately suggests he’s up for the challenge.
Every time I’ve watched a Syracuse home game this season, the commentators have mentioned that Syracuse is now in the ACC, that Duke is coming to the Carrier Dome in February, that Syracuse bookstores have been selling “Beat Duke” T-shirts, and that Syracuse planned to shatter the on-campus attendance record against the Blue Devils. As somebody with zero ties to either program, I couldn’t help but think this was overkill. I get it — the two winningest coaches squaring off makes for an intriguing story line, Syracuse and Duke are both great programs, and both schools have been fighting for years over who gets to claim living legend Greg Paulus. But it’s not like these were the two best teams in the country or each team had seven future NBA players or something. It was just a normal February game between two good teams that was being hyped because Syracuse fans had an inexplicable hard-on for Duke.
Yet somehow, the most-hyped early-February game in the history of college basketball still didn’t have enough hype. I don’t even know where to begin with this game. If Jabari Parker doesn’t battle foul trouble, Duke wins. If the refs don’t screw Duke in the final minutes with one terrible call after the other, Duke wins. If Rodney Hood completes the dunk that has bumped Victor Oladipo’s miss against Michigan and Greg Oden’s miss against Georgetown4 on my list of favorite all-time missed dunks, Duke wins.5 If Duke has a big guy who can catch the ball in the high post, turn and face, and knock down a wide-open 10-footer, Duke wins. If Duke realizes earlier in the game that getting Parker the ball in the high post with room to operate is a nightmare situation for Syracuse, Duke wins.
Few things make me happier than Billy Packer talking through his confusion after Oden misses that dunk.
Duke got screwed on all sorts of huge calls in that game, but Hood’s missed dunk wasn’t one of them. I’ve watched the play 50 times and still can’t figure out what the gripe is about. The only reason so many people are complaining is because Duke got hosed on all those calls leading up to this play.
I can’t applaud Duke enough for Saturday’s performance. It was given every reason in the world to roll over and quit, and the Blue Devils just refused. People say there’s no such thing as a good loss. Well, this was a good loss. Duke played an undefeated team on the road in front of more than 35,000 people; it dealt with foul trouble all game; it was completely outmatched in the paint; it fell victim to questionable calls; and it still had a shot to win at the buzzer. That’s something to be proud of. Jay Bilas mentioned after the game that the effort Duke put forth on Saturday was good enough to beat any team in the country except Syracuse at home. He was right. If the Blue Devils play that well the rest of the season, they’ll be cutting down nets in April.
Florida’s last seven opponents have shot a combined 35.6 percent from the field and have averaged 51.3 points per game. That’s absurd. And really, that’s all that needs to be said about the Gators.6
Florida fans: This was meant to be a mic drop moment. Yes, I’ve been watching the Gators’ games and, yes, I could write more in depth. But I want every college basketball fan to know just how dominant Florida’s D is, so I’m not going to write anything else and overshadow that. Sorry if you feel cheated this week.
Here’s a scary thought: In the last five days, three different Syracuse players have registered career-high scoring totals — C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant notched career bests of 28 and 24 points against Duke, respectively, and Trevor Cooney hit nine 3s against Notre Dame on Monday en route to 33 points. During that same span, Tyler Ennis tied his personal-best mark for assists (nine against Duke), Grant tied his career-high for rebounds (12 against Duke), and Rakeem Christmas blocked a career-high number of shots (six against Duke). In other words, every one of Syracuse’s starters is playing as well as he ever has right now, which is pretty terrifying for the rest of the country, considering the Orange won 20 games in a row before they started setting all these career records.
As Syracuse adds more and more wins to the best start in school history, the conversation about where this Orange team ranks among Cuse’s best all-time teams will pick up. Since I did something similar with Arizona earlier in the season and it was a huge success (read: Arizona fans bombarded me with tweets and emails telling me how wrong I was), I figured I’d try it again with Syracuse. Here are my power rankings of the best Syracuse teams ever.
|Year||Record (Conf. Record)||NCAA Tournament Finish||Notable Players|
|2012||34-3 (17-1)||Elite Eight||Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, C.J. Fair, Fab Melo, James Southerland|
|1987||31-7 (12-4)||Runner-up||Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Greg Monroe, Derrick Coleman, Howard Triche, Stephen Thompson|
|2003||30-5 (13-3)||Champions||Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara, Kueth Duany|
|1989||30-8 (10-6)||Elite Eight||Douglas, Thompson, Coleman, Billy Owens|
|1990||26-7 (12-4)||Sweet 16||Thompson, Coleman, Owens|
|2013||30-10 (11-7)||Final Four||Fair, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, Southerland|
|2010||30-5 (15-3)||Sweet 16||Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, Joseph, Jardine|
|1996||29-9 (12-6)||Runner-up||John Wallace|
|1980||26-4 (5-1)||Sweet 16||Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Marty Headd, Eddie Moss|
|2000||26-6 (13-3)||Sweet 16||Etan Thomas, Jason Hart, Preston Shumpert, Damone Brown, Ryan Blackwell|
|1994||23-7 (13-5)||Sweet 16||Lawrence Moten, Adrian Autry, Wallace, Luke Jackson|
Unless this team goes 38-2 or better and wins a national championship, I’ll likely always think of 2012 as the best all-time Syracuse team. Cuse fans remember all too well, but the rest of you might forget that Fab Melo’s ineligibility submarined a season that should’ve been historically great. The Orange started 20-0, lost at Notre Dame in their very first game after Melo’s suspension, and then got Melo back and won 11 straight before losing by three to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament. That was their only loss of the season in which they had their full roster. Melo was suspended again after that game and sat out the entire NCAA tournament, and the Orange clawed their way to the Elite Eight before losing to Ohio State.7 As an Ohio State fan, Melo’s absence made me very happy, but as a college basketball fan I will forever be upset that Melo and Kendall Marshall robbed us of what should have been a phenomenal Final Four.
By “clawed their way,” I mean this was the Syracuse team that got some help from the refs down the stretch and barely survived 16-seed UNC-Asheville in the first round.
Anyway, as of right now, I’d probably put this year’s Orange at no. 4 on my list, just because the ending to their story has yet to be written. The 1987 team was loaded with talent and was one legendary shot away from a national title,8 so it’s going to take a lot for the 2014 squad to supplant them. The 2003 team, as beloved as they are by Orange fans, was really just loaded with Carmelo Anthony and guys who played well around him. Sure, they won 30 games and a national title, but they also lost to Rutgers. Assuming the 2014 team loses only one or two games until the tournament starts, wins the ACC by a significant margin, and advances to at least the Final Four, I don’t think 2003’s sentimental value would be enough to trump a season that monumental. Then again, Jabari Parker is Carmelo 2.0 and Duke could potentially play Syracuse three more times this season, so maybe we should wait to see how the first rematch goes before we draw conclusions on 2003 vs. 2014.
You’re never going to believe this, but Billy Packer was confused in this clip, too. Steve Alford had hit seven 3s for Indiana, so Jim Boeheim had Sherman Douglas face-guard Alford for the final possession. Packer noticed this and said Syracuse was playing man-to-man, even though it was a clearly a box-and-1.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing how wrong I am from every Syracuse fan on the planet.
The Full-Court Buzzer Beater of the Week
Sacramento State hosted Weber State over the weekend and held a three-point lead with seven seconds left in overtime. That’s when this happened.
A couple of things: First, that whole sequence reminded me of Tyreke Evans against the Grizzlies in 2010 just because it had that “huge shot immediately erased by a desperation heave” aspect going for it. Secondly, eight total free throws were shot (four by both teams) with 15 seconds left in overtime, when the refs T’d up both coaches at the same time for arguing calls. That alone would’ve been an absurd ending to a game, but it was followed up by Davion Berry hitting a shot that would’ve sent it to double overtime if not for Dylan Garrity’s heave. College basketball is the best.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is B. See you next week.