Predictably to a national TV audience, as the CBS broadcast looked ahead to the East Regional semi-final brackets at Washington this week during Sunday’s thrilling Indiana-Temple back-and-forth affair, announcer Jim Nantz forecast a possible Indiana-Syracuse matchup, and the immediate comment about a Sweet 16 matchup between the teams that met for the 1987 NCAA title.
Always to be intricately locked together for the dismal ending felt by Orange Nation in ’87, despite the ultimate redemption in the same building 16 years later, the two teams have met a couple of times since Jim Boeheim’s first shot at a title, and in those subsequent games it is the Orange that has come away victorious, Boeheim over the coach he satisfyingly passed for second on the all-time wins list this season, Bob Knight.
No one can ever forget the Sherman Douglas pass that he hiked between his legs for a Stephen Thompson dunk in the 1988 pre-season NIT semi-final win over the Hoosiers at Madison Square Garden. A sweet Orange win 19 months after the title game loss to IU when it still hurt.
There were also a couple of Maui Invitational titles; a 77-74 win in the overnight hours east coast time in 1990, a game in which the Orangemen rode the tournament MVP performance of Billy Owens, and again in 1998, a 13-point win led by MVP Jason Hart (By-the-way, SU is in the 2013 Maui Invitational field).
Now as two of the sport’s elite programs meet Thursday night for the first time since ’98 in Hawaii, about the only things that will be the same inside the Verizon Center as in the previous meetings will be Indiana wearing white, Syracuse orange, and Coach Boeheim patrolling the sideline watching his team play the 2-3 zone with abandonment.
Tom Creen has rebuilt the Hoosiers program in five years to this year’s multi-talented, number-one seeded team, and it will be a race to set the pace in this matchup. Interestingly, in meetings when Creen coached Marquette, he was winless twice against SU.
The ‘Cuse has won this post-season with its signature defense, scoring just enough points when needed to win (no one has yet to stop the starting backcourt from driving to the hoop), while still not fixing the free throw and shooting percentage bugaboo.
In what’s still an unpredictable NCAA field of 16 remaining teams, and over two weeks since the miserable regular season finale at Georgetown, Syracuse has played in the maximum number of its remaining scheduled games, and looks to add two more to its post-season run at the same locale that subsequently launched this turnaround.