Last weekend was a great weekend for the NCAA.
There was No. 16 seeded UMBC doing the unthinkable of upsetting No. 1 seed Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which was the first time ever in NCAA Tournament history. Loyola-Chicago and Nevada are this year’s Cinderellas by advancing to the Sweet 16. Programs that are involved in FBI investigation with recruits such as Michigan State, North Carolina and Arizona did not make it past the first weekend. NCAA’s golden son Duke made it to the Sweet 16 with ease.
By far the most gratifying thing for the NCAA was the Syracuse Orange advancing to the Sweet 16. This was a team that was the 68th team in the bracket. This was a program that had no business being there when the snubbed programs such as Nebraska Cornhuskers, St. Mary’s Gaels and Penn State Nittany Lions should have been there. Whether The NCAA Tournament committee wants to admit it or not, Syracuse was selected for its brand name, which mean better television ratings and better crowds in the tournament.
Syracuse validated the committee’s decision by winning three games in five days last week, which included a win against Arizona State in the play-in game at Dayton and then following it up by beating TCU and Michigan State in this weekend’s first and second round of the tournament respectively. They will make no apologies for being there, and they shouldn’t. They should be commended for making the most of their opportunity of being in the tournament.
Sure, Syracuse fans will make it seem like their team is the little engine they could because they are so dramatic, but it’s hard to call them that by winning 20 regular season games and eight ACC conference games. They are a good team that could have created damage if they made the tournament, and they certainly have by playing the 2-3 zone defense that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has patented in his Hall of Fame coaching career.
It wouldn’t be surprising if they go to the Final Four and win the national championship if they beat the Duke Blue Devils on Friday night in the Midwest Region. If they can beat Duke, they can beat anyone. Duke could be the only team standing in their way with their two big guys in Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., which is why they are the odds-on favorite to win the national championship.
Syracuse played Duke on Feb. 24, and it did not go well for them as they took a 60-44 loss to the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Go ahead and say it’s one game, but the takeaway in this game was Bagley had 19 points and Carter had 16 points in breaking Syracuse’s zone defense. Duke has the big guys that can break that defense down by driving to the basket. Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State can’t say the same since they didn’t have one. Duke’s big men were a difference maker then, and they could be again.
But with the way all these favorites have gone down in the tournament that included the Kentucky Wildcats and Gonzaga Bulldogs losing in their Sweet 16 games Thursday night, don’t tell Syracuse they can’t beat Duke.
Give Syracuse credit for not playing the nobody respects us card. They know full well they are good enough to beat anyone with a great coach and good shooters. No one will confuse them to the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, who will advance to the Elite Eight after a 69-68 nail biting win over the Nevada Wolf Pack Thursday night in the NCAA South Regional semifinal.
It will be interesting how they will fare against Duke. If they win this, one can make a case for destiny for them. No disrespect to what Loyola-Chicago has been doing, but beating Duke would be like a winning national championship being that they have played like the best team in the country all year.
Syracuse will no doubt make the necessary adjustments to beat Duke, and vice versa. It will come down to how well their guards play. They are going to have to score in the mid-sixties to beat them, and one has to figure they can’t be any worse offensively against them in their lone meeting of the season. Their defense should be efficient enough against Duke. The question has been more about their offense this year.
Syracuse relishes the opportunity to go up against the best team in the country. It sure beats sitting at home and watching others play Duke. It could have been them if not with the help of the committee.
Syracuse can continue to make the committee look good not just by beating Duke, but being the last team standing in the end.