With the week-long euphoria of celebrating the school’s fifth consecutive decade of making the Final Four, and fourth time in as many decades making it to the final weekend under Jim Boeheim, the first important aspect of each trip under Syracuse’s Hall of Famer has been three successful national semifinal performances against the likes of Providence (1987), Mississippi State (1996) and Texas (2003) to move on to play in the title game and attempt to achieve that ultimate “One Shining Moment.”
Heck, coming this far this postseason with Michigan looming Saturday night in the nightcap in Atlanta (approximately 8:50 ET/CBS), and the aforementioned average of once-per-decade appearance, you might as well play in the final game, but you have to get there first.
“I have thought about that a couple of times, that we have been able to get to the finals when we’re there,” Boeheim said after the East Regional championship had been secured last weekend. “Obviously, you can’t win if you don’t get to the final.”
In each of his team’s previous national semifinal appearances, Boeheim has had his team ready to play on the biggest stage.
The Orangemen had no doubt they were going to beat Providence for a third time that season in New Orleans. Starting guard Greg Monroe went so far to assure all listening out on Bourbon Street three nights before the game that, “there’s no way Providence is going to beat us.”
In ’96, Connecticut, ranked in the top-5 essentially all season, defeated the ‘Cuse both in the regular season and for the Big East championship, but was upset by Mississippi State in the regional semi-finals. SU, shocking Georgia and Kansas in Denver on route to the New Jersey Meadowlands Final Four, knocked off MSU by eight points before falling to Kentucky. (Is a Boeheim-Pitino championship game rematch looming 17 years later?)
After watching freshmen Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin step up in their games (combined 57 points) in the 95-84 semi-final win over Texas in ’03, Boeheim famously told the postgame media crush in New Orleans that, “they make a mistake here and there, but these kids are young enough to think they can do anything, and I’m not going to tell them differently.”
Last weekend, Boeheim said he learned an important emotional lesson for this year’s players after the long ago sting of the Indiana title game defeat.
“What I’ve told the players, the first year (’87) I didn’t realize this,” Boeheim explained. “When you make the Final Four, obviously it’s a great reason to be happy. But if you don’t win the Final Four, you’ll be more unhappy than if you lose now (the regional final). That’s the way I look at it.”