Well, the NCAA tournament starts today. And no, I don’t count play-in games. And for the first time since 2008, Syracuse isn’t in it. It’s a weird feeling. The tourney feels incomplete without a member of college basketball royalty.
Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, Michigan State, Indiana, Georgetown and Villanova made it. So did Louisville, Wisconsin, Maryland and Arizona.
But no Cuse. And it just doesn’t feel right. Two years ago, we were celebrating a run to the Final Four. Three years ago, en route to the Elite Eight. And five years ago, the Sweet 16.
Nothin’ this year. But the fun can return. Yes, Syracuse can bounce back next year. But it’s hard to breathe after a punch to the gut. It takes time. The tournament has always been one of my favorite sporting events, and it’s just not as bright without the Orange.
College football and the NFL or NBA may be more popular. But those sports’ playoffs don’t have anything on March Madness. So while I still look forward to this year’s tourney despite us not being in it, I also look back to tourneys of years past, specifically during my reign at Cuse (the 2009-2010 season through the 2012-2013).
First up: 2013. Senior year. The team had gone through ups and downs but was ranked throughout the season. Lost the regular-season finale to Georgetown. I was there, and it was not good. Made a nice run in the Big East tourney (punctuated by a win over Georgetown, one of my favorite wins). Got a No. 4 seed for the tourney.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect for that year. But SU easily beat Montana, then Cal, then whooped the highly favored Indiana in the Sweet 16. Then they demolished Marquette in the Elite Eight. While SU lost in the Final Four to Michigan, it made Michael Carter-Williams a household name. The excitement on campus when Cuse won that Elite Eight game, I’d never seen anything like it. And being a senior made it that much sweeter.
In 2012, SU was the best team in the country for much of the year. If not for Fab Melo’s ineligibility, I think SU would have made it to the Final Four instead of the Elite 8. That team was nearly two-rosters deep. Kris Jo, Scoop, Dion, Triche, Southerland, Fair, etc.
2011, a first round loss, was forgettable. But 2010 was one of my favorites. I was a freshman, and SU had come out of nowhere to become a No. 1 seed. Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku killed the court.
Here’s to hoping for a bounce back in 2016. I’d still rather be a Syracuse fan than any other team. SU consistently wins. I look forward to more of that tournament winning in the future.