Item: In a matter of several hours Sunday, all of those in Orange Nation were treated to the tingling, one of a kind, one-two punch of orange-clad celebrations on courts in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Chicago, witnessing the unfathomable achievement of the women’s first-ever trip to the Final Four, followed by the men ending the program’s once-in-a-decade streak, dating back to the 1970s, of making the sport’s grandest stage. While still shaking all of our collective heads two days later, we now have an easy reference point – Easter Sunday 2016 – to add to another monumental day of Syracuse athletics, in what already has been a robust school year that’s now produced four Final Four appearances and two national championships.
Have you scrambled to change your long ago scheduled plans for the first weekend of April yet?
We all keep the faith, but no way could anyone have predicted it would be Houston on our minds this weekend, or more specifically an unlikely third meeting of the season between Syracuse and North Carolina (32-6) in Saturday’s nightcap of the NCAA Tournament national semifinals at 71,795 seat NRG Stadium (8:49 p.m. ET approx. – TV: TBS/Digital: March Madness Live).
Sandwiched around the men’s games in Houston, we get the thoroughly enjoyable bonus of watching the Orange women’s team (29-7) culminate the decade long, program building legwork by coach Quentin Hillsman of turning Syracuse into a perennial NCAA team, and adding the school to the relatively small list of nine other programs that have sent both men’s/women’s hoop teams to the Final Four in the same year, next meeting Washington (26-10) in the national semifinals at 18,165 seat Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET approx. – TV: ESPN2/Digital: Watch ESPN).
The result of the truly roller coaster ride of Jim Boeheim’s astonishing 40th season, reverting to an upward trajectory with the crescendo of one regional championship net cutting ceremony by Boeheim perfectly orchestrating the knocking off of No. 1 seed Virginia, who just so happened to be the only ACC team the now infamous No. 10 seed Orange (23-13) had failed to conquer in three seasons of league play, is the creation of a new identity to the program even after Boeheim’s decades-long Hall of Fame success.
The four game contrast of first second half domination versus Dayton and Middle Tennessee, then edge of the seat, improbable comebacks against Gonzaga and UVA also boosted Syracuse into the unchartered waters of the sport’s “Blue Bloods” by finally making multiple Final Four appearances over a couple of years period, as opposed to once each decade from the 70s-present.
The previous five SU Final Four seasons are impressive enough, after all how many programs would raise their hands in a New York minute if they could be guaranteed one Final Four appearance a decade, although the previous gaps in the ‘Cuse Final Fours were a long 12, nine, seven, and 10 years, respectively, just enough to stay in the national conscience as a power, but even with the ‘03 national title, not quite as consistent for the sport’s fifth all-time winningest program when you consider the schools ahead on the list; Kentucky (11), Kansas (8), North Carolina (13), and Duke (13), have been to a whopping combined 45 Final Fours since 1975, all but the Jayhawks going to on average twice as many Final Fours as the six Orange appearances.
Now with two Final Fours over the last four seasons, the ‘Cuse is currently playing in the “Big Boy” territory this decade, even having the school’s first two players, Trevor Cooney and Dajuan Coleman, each with extended eligibility for different reasons, make the first multiple trips to Final Fours wearing an orange uniform which is positively Duke-like (four Blue Devils played in four straight Final Fours in their careers during the late 80s, early 90s).
No more predictions, they’ve been fruitless so far and our bracket was damaged a while back. Head turning upsets have been part of the game plan for both Orange teams in making it this far; we’re not going to doubt they can find a way to continue that trend.