More great NCAA tournament games on the horizon?

The path to Houston’s Final Four is now laid out for this year’s SU basketball team.

SU will begin with a weekend trip to Cleveland to face an Indiana State team that finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference season and then won the conference tournament on its home court in the championship game against Missouri State.

A win over the Sycamores means a matchup with the Atlantic 10’s Xavier or a rare NCAA matchup with a conference foe, in this case Marquette and an opportunity to gain revenge for the 76-70 loss to the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee in late January. This is now a third-round game, the earliest teams from the same conference are bracketed to meet.

SU has only played one Big East team in the NCAA tournament, when it man handled Providence in the 1987 national semi-finals in New Orleans (there was no Big East when Syracuse played Louisville in the 1975 national consolation game).

Two wins in Cleveland would mean a trip to an Orange fan-friendly Newark, but in a field this wide open, nothing can be taken for granted.

With a program as successful as the one Jim Boeheim has created in a six decade Hall of Fame career, it’s hard to imagine that in the first 10 years of his tenure, the Orangemen did not win more than one game in any NCAA Tournament.

Yep, one and done for eight tournaments between 1977-1987 finally culminated with wins over Georgia Southern and Western Kentucky — in the Carrier Dome no less — en route to the ’87 title game loss to Indiana.

At the conclusion of the second win that moved SU on to the regional semi-finals, junior Rony Seikaly leaped over to empty a water bucket on the back of his victorious coach in the hand-shake line.

“To get the monkey off his back, we washed it off,” Seikaly famously said afterward.

Here are two other NCAA Tournament games (non Final Four) that will always go down in ‘Cuse hoops lore in the Boeheim era.

◊ 1977: Jim Boeheim’s first NCAA victory of his 44 career tournament wins came against the vaunted “Ernie and Bernie Show,” Tennessee All American seniors Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, who got all of the headlines as they combined to average over 40 points a game.

Instead, it was Orangemen guards Larry Arrington and Jim “Bug” Williams who outplayed the more celebrated Volunteers duo in overtime, ending their college careers with a 93-88 victory in a Mideast regional game on LSU’s home court in Baton Rouge, La.

◊1996: An improbable West regional run ends with a stellar 2-3 zone defensive effort against second seeded Kansas forcing the Jayhawks into 4-for-25 three-point shooting on route to a 60-57 win at Denver’s (since demolished) McNichols Arena. It also showcased the post-game TV interview dance moves (“The ‘Cuse is in the House, Oh My God! Oh My God!”) of the late Al McGuire, the CBS analyst for the game.

Boeheim’s second trip to the Final Four in his first 20 seasons, aided by the great play of seniors John Wallace and Lazarus Sims, came out of nowhere after a dramatic overtime win over Georgia in the semi-finals. Wallace’s clinching three-pointer followed Jason Cipolla’s fall-away jumper along the baseline that beat the regulation buzzer to force OT.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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