The last (and only) time Syracuse was in this position, the year was 1987 and Sherman Douglas was throwing alley-oops to Rony Seikaly.
That year, the Orangemen advanced to the national title game to play the Indiana Hoosiers. But before SU even got there, it defeated Providence for the third time that season in the national semifinals game. That is to say, Syracuse met another Big East foe in the NCAA tournament.
It hasn’t happened since then, but that streak will come to an end when the third-seeded Orange play the 11-seeded Golden Eagles on Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at the Quicken Loans Arena. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim isn’t exactly pleased about the prospect of facing a team that he’s familiar with.
“It’s a bad thing,” Boeheim said. “It’s just what it is. I like to play other teams when we get to the NCAA, to tell you the truth. But it’s what it is.”
One of the biggest advantages Syracuse has when it gets to the tournament is that other teams haven’t seen the vaunted 2-3 zone. But that isn’t the case with Marquette, who defeated Syracuse, 76-70, on Jan. 29, and sees SU’s zone at least once a year.
That isn’t necessarily a representative sample of what will happen on Sunday. The loss to Marquette was Syracuse’s fourth in a row at the time. During those four losses the Orange allowed opposing teams to shoot 47 percent from 3-point land.
The Orange perimeter defense has improved significantly during that time, including Syracuse’s second round win against Indiana State. The Orange held the Sycamores to just 7-for-21 shooting from downtown, including 1-for-8 shooting in the second half.
“Their point guard is very crafty off the bounce, and he was getting it in there,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “But the thing about it, he didn’t want to shoot it at first. We made him shoot the ball, and that’s kind of how we got them to play our type of basketball.”
It will almost certainly be harder to do the same thing against Marquette.
The Golden Eagles dismantled Xavier, 66-55, on Friday as Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder combined for 44 points. Marquette held Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year Tu Holloway to just five points on 1-for-8 shooting.
But the familiarity between the two schools could’ve also played a factor. While Syracuse and Indiana State had never faced each other, Marquette is now 44-16 all time against Xavier, and the two teams had faced each other in 2009.
Boeheim can only hope that Syracuse is a different than the team he was coaching in late January.
“I hope we’re playing better,” Boeheim said. “I hope we play better. We’ll need to play a lot better than we played in that game.”