[Managing Editor’s Note: This summer, Brad Bierman will begin his 40th season covering Syracuse sports. He has covered SU first as a student, and then a longtime radio broadcaster living in and outside of Syracuse. For the past 22 years, he has covered the Orange as a columnist for The Juice both in print and online, serving as Editor in Chief since our switch to online-only in 2010. This month’s columns will focus on his experiences following Orange athletics.]
Item: Yes, we can attest there’s been one season, three full games, and two partial games (one an exhibition) that Jim Boeheim has not been directing game strategy courtside as SU head coach on our ‘Watch’ dating back to the fall of 1975.
Following an incomprehensible, dizzying postseason ride to the Final Four in San Diego the previous March consisting of defeating huge upstate rivals Niagara and St. Bonaventure in the old ECAC Playoffs, and subsequent NCAA victories in overtime over LaSalle in Philadelphia, a last-second buzzer-beater to slay giant North Carolina at Providence, and another regulation buzzer beater to force OT and lead to an eight point win against Kansas State, the obvious reaction from the Manley Zoo faithful for the 1975-76 season was: “How do you top a Final Four?”
Not only was 1975-76 Roy Danforth’s final season after eight years of bringing the program into its modern era of regularly making the NCAA Tournament (1973-75), before the university wisely handed off the reigns to assistant Boeheim who subsequently took the program to another stratosphere (with a little help from the Dome), it was Danforth’s youngest team in terms of experience with only two seniors, and it got underway with a rather unusual exhibition game.
The term “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming” had cache in Syracuse in the fall of 1975 for several reasons. There was the cooling-off of political tensions between the U.S. and Soviets, a six year collaboration known as détente, and the lingering ill feelings that remained over the controversial gold medal game loss by the American team to the Russians at the Munich Summer Olympics just three years prior.
But most importantly the buzz in town was over the first appearance for Orange basketball since the unexpected Final Four run, and it would be an exhibition game against the Soviet National Team itself, including center Aleksandr Belov who scored the game-winning basket in the ’72 Olympics, at Manley Field House.
The game was among 14 the Soviets scheduled against top U.S. programs over a 26 day tour, designed to test the defending gold medalists against players they would likely see at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, while allowing the USSR contingent to take advantage of purchasing Western luxuries (blue jeans) while sampling various cuisine (barbecue chicken in Syracuse).
The game at Manley, however, turned out to be anti-climatic. The Soviets experience and muscle against a younger SU team led to a 13 point win, and it’s an exhibition result that Syracuse doesn’t even include in its official basketball records.
For the record, the only times Jim Boeheim has not been conducting game strategy courtside during his soon-to-be 39th season, is when he needed surgery to correct an enlarged prostate gland in Dec. 2001 and missed the Hofstra, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech games, the final 28.9 seconds of the first half and entire second half of the 2005 exhibition game against Saint Rose at the Dome, and this past season’s final 10.4 seconds of the game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.Brad Bierman (Follow on Twitter @BradBierman)