Orange Watch: Epic victory, upset loss elevates Syracuse to nation’s No. 1 team

Syracuse defeated Duke in an epic battle in 2014.

Item: For the fifth time during regular season play in the Boeheim era, SU basketball is atop the polls to begin the week on Big Monday.

It was another one of Jim Boeheim’s longtime coaching comrades that made news late Saturday night, a couple of hours after the SU boss had hugged his close friend Mike Krzyzewski following a masterpiece of a college basketball game in the Dome between the fourth (Duke) and fifth (SU) all time victorious programs and newly crowned certified ACC rivals, who get to go it again in Durham on Feb. 22.

» Related: Syracuse defeats Duke in overtime

Syracuse moved up to No. 1 with the Arizona loss

Coming up with an aggressive game plan from the opening tip, and getting a lift from a rare sellout home crowd in Berkeley, Mike Montgomery’s Cal Bears, twice victims to the Orange the last two seasons in the NCAA round of 32 at San Jose last March and in Maui this past November, were rewarded with a last second, step-back jumper from Justin Cobbs that beat previous top-ranked and unbeaten Arizona 60-58, and elevated the ‘Cuse to the top spot Monday afternoon after the thrilling narrow escape against Duke to hit “Blackjack” – a program-best 21 straight wins to start a season.

No. 1 for the first time since the 2011-12 team topped the polls after also going 20-0, the Orange begins the week with an unfortunately-scheduled, quick turnaround to play Monday versus Notre Dame, ironically the same team that ended the winning streak in ’12 at South Bend, the ‘Cuse playing that game minus a suspended Fab Melo.

This time the meeting is in the Dome tonight (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPN), and since the season-ending loss of Jerami Grant’s older brother Jerian, the Irish’s leading scorer due to an academic issue that surfaced Dec. 22, ND is not the same team having gone 4-6 and are winless on the road in league play in their ACC debut.

» Related: Syracuse and Duke played a game for the ages

In a season that has already seen a flustered St. Francis-Brooklyn unable to pull off the mega upset of SU down the stretch falling by six points, the Orange getting past three talented teams in three nights in Maui by an average of 8.6 points, befuddling Indiana for a second-straight season, turning back old Big East rivals St. John’s and Villanova, and knocking off all ACC foes so far to set a new standard for the best start of any season, adding the No. 1 ranking is another amazing chapter to this team specifically, the program in general, and Coach Boeheim who’s at the top of his game in an already legendary career.

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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.