That’s a pretty unbelievable statement, huh? A little over two weeks ago, most people — like the one and only president of the “I Hate Syracuse Fan Club” Doug Gottlieb — were infuriated that this Syracuse team made the tournament at all. Now, in an act of the ultimate middle finger to the world, the Orange sit in the Elite 8.
Have they lucked out a little bit? Sure. But what does that say about Dayton? If they were the seven seven seed and Cuse was the “awful” 10 seed, then Dayton must really stink, right?
Anyway, it doesn’t matter how or why they are there… they are there. This season is even more special for me on a personal level.
And since this is my blog, I’m going to tell you why.
I remember Keith Smart. I had just turned 12-years old and it was the first time I was allowed to stay up late on a school night to watch a game. I remember 2003 like it was yesterday. My roommate totaled my car the night before and my head hit the windshield, rendering me with a concussion and doctor’s note saying I was couch bound for that entire Monday. My loyal Syracuse compadre Mary came over and we watched the greatest night in Syracuse history unfold.
Melo. Gerry. Hakim. Kueth. Craig and Jeremy chipping in down low. Billy trying to not be suspended. And Josh Pace playing some minutes. A group of guys I will never forget.
Nor, will I forget this team.
This season started out on an amazing note, taking the Battle for Atlantis and beating two of the better teams in the nation in UConn and Texas A&M. Then Jimmy B’s suspension came, as well as losses to St. John’s, Georgetown and Clemson.
It was early January 13th… 4 AM to be precise. Cuse was 0-4 in ACC play and there was already talks of the season being over with the toughest road still ahead. 4 AM. That’s when The Wifeyiac went into labor.
It was pretty quick compared to other stories I had heard. By 12:09 PM, our little girl Brooklynn was here. And Cuse’s season changed.
We had five channels in our recovery room. Luckily, living in Atlanta, one of those stations was WUPA, the home of ACC basketball. Seven hours into her young life, daddy’s little girl got to watch Cuse basketball.
I sat in our rocker explaining to her the intricacies of the 2-3 zone, how Jim Boeheim had been unfairly robbed of wins while other powerhouse teams in their own ACC continue to be on the radar for questionable activities. I told her how great the Big East was and that the teams they brought with them to the ACC had made them the top conference in America. I also told her that this wasn’t your typical Cuse team, they were young and seemingly still searching for their identity. Normally Cuse was a tournament bound team.
But this was a different night. Their heralded leader had returned from that suspension and Cuse won. Then they won again. Then, at Cameron Indoor, they won again. Cuse was back. And my daughter watched every game alongside her daddy.
They dropped a tough one in Charlottesville but then reeled off five more. We know how the season ended, it wasn’t pretty, but in fairness four of their six last games were against tournament teams with higher seeds than Cuse (minus Louisville, who I would imagine would have been a three or four had they not been self-banned).
Then the Selection Sunday show aired. The now infamous bracket leak showed that Cuse had indeed got a ten seed, but I didn’t believe it. I kept flipping back to that two-hour show (I couldn’t watch straight though) and lo and behold, the leak was real. Cuse was in.
The nation was furious. How did Monmouth not make it? How did St. Mary’s not make it? You know what? I agree, but there were plenty of other teams that could have been bounced for them as well — Temple, Vandy and Fairleigh Ridiculous come to mind — but no, the nation turned their angst towards Cuse.
My little girl didn’t care. She was ready.
You see, Syracuse didn’t just win their first two games. They dominated them. A 19-point and a 25-point victory over “inferior” teams, yet just a few days earlier, Cuse was the supposed inferior team in the tournament.
They beat Gonzaga by three the other night. The Zags were yet another team that Cuse had no shot against, because Gonzaga would shoot the lights out against that 2-3 zone.
Wrong. Despite the refs giving them another chance and taking away a remarkable game-clinching steal from Cooney, Cuse won 63-60.
The whole time, my little girl was right beside me. Sure, sometimes it was past her bedtime, but she was sleeping right there. I explained to her why I called Michael Gbinije “Silent G”. I told her all about this guy Tyler Lydon who had quickly become one of my favorite players when I would never have expected him to be. I tried to explain to her that no matter how mad Cooney made me, I still liked his play. And I told her that hopefully one day, we can go to a game and catch one of Coach Boeheim’s jackets when he ripped it off in a rash of fury.
When she was awake, she was cheering her little tush off.
So, yes, Cooney, Lydon, Silent G, Malachi and Roberson have a special place for me. They are the most unassuming Cuse team in Boeheim’s reign to get this far, and like I said lucky or not, they are here. And ten weeks into her young life, my daughter got to go on a fantastic ride with her mommy and daddy, that even I — the die-hard Cuse faithful that I am — never saw coming. Being the sports nuts that we are, we got our bond of on the right foot.
And, win or lose, we are pumped for tonight.