WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s an accomplishment that Jim Boeheim has often said he is proud of.
On this his 50th anniversary of attending Syracuse as a student, serving as an assistant coach then head coach, he’s been part of all four of the school’s Final Four appearances, one each decade since the 1970s (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003).
Not too bad for consistency for a smaller, private school in central New York, a Final Four appearance each decade in the sport’s modern era. How many programs would take that standard in a heartbeat?
After falling so close last season with an Elite Eight defeat against Ohio State, Boeheim knows the opportunities don’t come every season, even though the Orange have shocked practically their entire fan base with a post-season turnaround to make it back-to-back Elite Eights for the first time and ninth time overall. Now he wants to secure a shot on the sport’s biggest stage.
“It’s hard to get here (playing for a Final Four slot), that’s all I can tell you,” Boeheim said on the eve of a shot at redemption against Marquette at the Verizon Center Saturday afternoon (4:30 ET / CBS).
“There has been a couple of teams that we thought wouldn’t get here and they have. It’s much more difficult now in today’s world (field of 68) to get to this point.”
To the players themselves, especially the seniors such as Brandon Triche who absorbed the sting of coming so close minus starter Fab Melo to making the Final Four last season, the program’s consistency in competing for a national championship with a completely different set of players over the years is something they want to continue.
“He’s (Boeheim) been talking about being back (to the Final Four) in general,” Triche said as he looks to continue his SU career by at least three more games. “I mean, even the last four years we’ve wanted to get back and we thought we had the chance (last season), pretty much like this year.”
The hurdle in the way to continuing the school’s streak is a Marquette team that for some reason has had a knack of solving the getting-more-famous-by-the-day ‘Cuse zone defense the last couple of seasons. There was the round of 32 NCAA win for the Golden Eagles in 2011, and this season’s frustrating 74-71 loss in Milwaukee, where Marquette went unbeaten this year.
The players are keenly aware.
“We were so close last year and I think we’ve learned from our mistakes last year that could help us get to the Final Four this year,” Michael Carter-Williams said on what is likely the swan song of his career donning orange. “We’re going to go as hard as we can to get this win. We want it so bad, we know what it takes.”
Just the kinds of words Orange fans want to hear from the player that’s been an unstoppable force in the tournament so far.Brad Bierman