Orange Watch: Syracuse looks to keep its Final Four streak intact

There was the improbable run in 1975 in which it implausibly joined the sport’s bluebloods UCLA and Kentucky, along with soon-to-be champion Louisville at the Final Four in San Diego.

Then, it was Jim Boeheim building the program with NBA talent galore leading to 1987’s near miss against Indiana.

Next, the unlikely John Wallace-led charge in 1996.

And, of course, Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Hakim Warrick highlighting the 2003 national championship.

All that that has amounted to an incredible streak: Syracuse has made the Final Four once a decade since the 70s.

» More Orange Watch from Brad Bierman: Syracuse in Sweet 16 neutral
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Not bad for a program that, despite having historical success going back to 1918 and 1926 Helms National Championships, had only one NCAA Tournament appearance (1957) since the tourney debuted in 1939. This was also prior to the arrival of Dave Bing and an eventual eastern regional final loss to Duke in 1966, and the succession of building the base of the program leading to the ’75 Final Four.

Since then, the glorious Hall of Fame presence of Jim Boeheim has spoiled us with his consistent, if not maddening at times, winning chapters. Who knows if the final pages are being played out right before our eyes as this incredibly special team in Orange history (34-2) goes for the school’s fifth Final Four appearance in five straight decades? (The game will be Saturday night (approx. 7:05 CBS) against imposing second-seed Ohio State (30-7) at the TD Garden in Boston.)

Syracuse was one shot and one possession better than an incredibly resilient Wisconsin team Thursday to shuck the nine-year Sweet 16 bugaboo. It raises the question: Is this one of those NCAA teams of destiny led by a “lifer” of the college game and its true engineer in Scoop Jardine, who can will and coax a much-discussed trip to New Orleans and playing for a national title out of his teammates?

“We’ve been right there with each other throughout the whole year,” Jardine said after the thriller over the Badgers. “That’s one thing about this team, we don’t get too high or too low, we stay right there level-headed. And we believe in each other, and when you got a team like that, no matter what, we’re capable of winning games no matter (who) we’re playing against or the circumstances of (any) game.”

» Can Syracuse keep the streak alive? Discuss.

As he prepares his team for a fifth Elite Eight coaching assignment against the challenge of a Buckeyes team that has looked sharp in their three NCAA wins, the ‘Cuse boss acknowledged the special characteristics of a team that’s won up to now like no other.

“They’ve had an unbelievable year. These guys are consistent,” Boeheim said following his 48th NCAA victory. “We got caught at Notre Dame (only regular season defeat), we didn’t adjust quickly to losing our center (Fab Melo). The first game of this tournament (the seven-point win over 16 seed UNC-Asheville) I don’t think we adjusted very well. But we’ve made that adjustment. And, the rest of the year (just unbelievable).”

One more win to go to take care of continuing what perhaps is turning out to be one of those stranger-than-fiction type of seasons, which could bring a longtime era to its winning finale.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.