Founding Father Thomas Paine once uttered the phrase, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” Who knew Paine was a college hoops fan?
Every March, college basketball diehards immerse themselves in the three week emotional cauldron that is the NCAA Tournament. Breath-taking adulation of last-second victories accompanied by the heart braking crush of agonizing defeats is commonplace. The mantra of “survive and advance” locked in an epic struggle with the instantaneous finality of “lose and go home.” A rite of passage, if you will, accepted by all pursuing basketball immortality in the form of clipping a net as One Shining Moment echoes from the rafters.
During Jim Boeheim’s almost 40-year tenure of patrolling the Syracuse sidelines, fans have reached the ultimate high of the 2003 NCAA title and three other Final Four tickets punched. Other seasons resulted in the humiliating experience of being Sportscenter’s lead story for all the wrong reasons. Some March losses are, unfortunately, etched in the memory archives of every Orange fan.
Since revenge is a dish best served cold, what if the Orange was allowed a mulligan? In a Utopian world, here’s a look at the ultimate Syracuse Revenge Tour Bracket: Righting the wrongs of the most painful Syracuse NCAA losses round-by-round. So, let the madness begin…again.
Round of 64: Richmond Spiders 73, Syracuse 69 – March 14, 1991
There’s a first time for everything in life. Much to the embarrassment of Orange fans, Syracuse was the first 2-seed ever toppled by a 15-seed. Under then-coach Dick Tarrant, the Spiders had pulled a number of upsets. They sent Charles Barkley and the 5-seed Auburn Tigers packing in 1984 and vanquished defending champion Indiana and legendary coach Bobby Knight in 1988. This was bigger. Much bigger. Syracuse was led by All-Everything, Billy Owens, the eventual third pick in the NBA Draft a few months later. But on that fateful March night, Boeheim, Owens and the Orange got caught in the Spiders’ web.
Runner-up: Vermont Catamounts
Round of 32: Arkansas Razorbacks 96, Syracuse 94 OT – March 19, 1995
The Timeout game. Rarely does a program with Syracuse’s stature have a chance to don the David suit and slay mighty Goliath. The Razorbacks were the defending national champions led by two of the best players in the country, Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman. After underachieving for most of the season, 7-seed Syracuse went toe-to-toe with the Hogs the entire game including erasing a 12-point second half deficit. With 4.3 seconds left in regulation and the Orange clinging to an 82-81 lead, Arkansas tied up forward Lucious Jackson after he stole the inbounds pass. Syracuse had the possession arrow. Hit some free throws and victory was all but assured. That’s when reality settled in. Lawrence Moten had called timeout during the scrum. Syracuse was out of timeouts. Technical foul. Thurman sank one-of-two free throws to force overtime. Arkansas escaped to the Sweet 16 while Syracuse, and Moten, was left to ponder.
Runner-up: UMass Minutemen
Sweet 16: Butler Bulldogs 63, Syracuse 59 – March 25, 2010
Every NCAA loss is painful. But a 1-seed getting bounced before reaching the Elite 8? Ugh. The Orange was loaded that year. Easily Syracuse’s best team since the 2003 champions. Wes Johnson, Kris Joseph, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine. Long and tall, this team executed the 2-3 zone to perfection. That all changed when Onuaku was lost for the season to injury against Georgetown in the Big East Tournament. Butler’s deliberate style of play coupled with 18 Syracuse turnovers brought an abrupt end to what seemed destined to be a magical March just weeks before.
Runner-up: Missouri Tigers
Elite 8: Ohio State Buckeyes 77, Syracuse 70 – March 24, 2012
Again a 1-seed two years later, Syracuse squared off against 2-seed OSU with a trip to the Final Four at stake. Just like the team two years prior, this Orange version was missing its anchor in the middle of the zone, 7-foot shot blocking sensation Fab Melo. Melo had been declared academically ineligible in the second semester. His absence allowed Jared Sullinger to have his way with the Orange interior. The Buckeyes dominated Syracuse on the backboards, 37-22, and from the free throw line, converting 31-of-42 attempts, though the Orange shot a respectable 20-of-25. Syracuse fell just short of the Final Four again.
Runner-up: Illinois Fighting Illini
Final Four: Michigan Wolverines 61, Syracuse 56 – April 6, 2013
A year after coming oh so close to the Final Four, this Syracuse team would unexpectedly seal the deal. The Wolverines prevailed in a battle between 4-seeds, though, that saw Syracuse’s offense grind to a near halt. Triche and C.J. Fair were the only two players to crack double digits. Fair nearly willed Syracuse into the title game scoring 22 of the Orange’s 56 points. Senior James Southerland (2-of-9, 1-of-5 from three) was the missing cog Fair needed to get SU over the hump. Despite Southerland’s struggles, Syracuse still had a chance to tie with 19.2 seconds left and trailing, 58-56. Triche was called for a questionable charge – his fifth foul – as he drove the lane in search of the equalizer.
Runner-up: Georgetown Hoyas* – Syracuse has only lost once under Boeheim when reaching the national semifinals so there’s no runner-up game to choose. In that case, what better opponent to eliminate from title contention in the Final Four than Georgetown?
National Championship: Indiana Hoosiers 74, Syracuse 73 – March 30, 1987
Those four dreaded words that live in Orange infamy. “Smart takes the shot.” In some ways, this is the game that started the stereotypes: Boeheim can’t win the big one. Syracuse players tank under pressure. Syracuse can’t make free throws. Tired and old, the same barbs and clichés haunted Orange fans for years to come. As for the game, Sherman Douglas led the Orange with 20 points with seven assists. Rony Seikaly scored 18 points while hauling down ten boards. Super frosh Derrick Coleman was a monster on the glass leading all players with 19 rebounds, 16 on the defensive end. But it was a missed free throw – the front end of a one-and-one – with Syracuse holding a one point edge with 28 seconds remaining that he would be remembered for on that night. In sports, sometimes the reality is that players just make plays. With the championship hanging in the balance, Smart did just that.
Runner-up: Kentucky Wildcats