As the East Region top-seed Orange (continuing school record 33-2) embarks on their third trip to the Sweet 16 in the last four seasons Thursday night in Boston (7:15-CBS) against fourth-seed Wisconsin (26-9), this question looms: Is it true SU has only been to the Eight Eight three times since 1989?
Of course, that’s the case, throw-in 1987 and its four times in 25 years, with 1989, 1996 and 2003 the other appearances, shocking to many in Orange Nation where the perception is the ’Cuse has played in more opportunities to get the victory needed to put the program on the sport’s grand stage.
(Jim Boeheim said earlier this season it’s important to him for the school to continue its (minimum) once-per-decade Final Four appearance streak for a fifth straight decade in the 2010s.)
It also shows just how hard it is to win four games over two weeks at two sites to set-up the opportunity for a Final Four berth.
As Scoop Jardine, the player at the end of his five years in the program who will likely determine just how far the team will go in this tournament, said succinctly for the rest of his teammates following the round of 32 win over Kansas State, it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty this time of year, it only matters to keep playing.
“We won and advanced, that’s what this tournament is about,” Jardine said in deflecting speculation of some in the media that the Orange may or may not be playing at the perceived level of a number one seed.
“We don’t worry about how we’re playing; we’re just worrying about getting that “W” at the end of the day. We advanced to the Sweet 16, and that’s all that matters (winning) when we get there (Boston) too.”
One gets the sense that after overcoming the immense pressure of not being the first team to lose to a 16 seed in the (now) 112 all-time matchups between 1-and-16 against UNC-Asheville, then dispensing Kansas State with a second-half balanced offensive performance that was reminiscent of the type of play that kept the Orange in the top 5 all season, that SU is going to continue to play at a high level as the number of teams playing decreases.
“I really feel we’ve played great ball all year, not just now (NCAA time),” offensive maestro Dion Waiters said following the two wins in Pittsburgh. “The things we needed to work on we did, whether it’s been on offense or defense. And on defense, when we buckle down, then get out and run, that’s something that we’re good at.”
In this “Final Four or Bust” themed season, you have to get to regional finals first. To be one of eight left standing the Orange will hope their play against the tough and well-coached Badgers Thursday in Jim Boeheim’s 16th Sweet 16 appearance is indeed… sweet.Brad Bierman