- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Jim Boeheim was so overwhelmed when his Syracuse Orange were selected to play in the NCAA tournament he was too tired to speak.

Just kidding.

Less than 24 hours after his 18th-ranked Orange’s scintillating marathon run through the Big East tournament ended with a 10-point loss in the championship game to No. 5 Louisville, Syracuse learned Sunday night it is the fifth seed in the South Regional.

The Orange (26-9) will meet 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin (24-7) in the first round on Friday in Miami.

It will be Boeheim’s 26th NCAA tournament as head coach. After playing in the NIT the past two years, it was a big relief.

“We’re so pleased to be back in the tournament,” Boeheim said after watching the selection show at his home with the team. “You don’t realize how much you miss the tournament until you miss it. It’s great for these guys. They were tremendously disappointed the last two years.”

Since the Orange won the national championship in 2003, they have gone 2-3 in three NCAA tournaments. Their previous two appearances resulted in first-round losses _ to Vermont in 2005 (60-57 in overtime) and Texas A&M; (66-58) in 2006. In their NIT appearances, they lost at Clemson in the 2007 semifinals and at home a year ago to Massachusetts in the quarterfinals.

Syracuse had won seven straight before the loss to the Cardinals, including a six-overtime thriller over third-ranked Connecticut and an overtime victory the next night over West Virginia. That sent the Orange from a team that was being talked about in bubble terms to one deserving of the high seeding it received.

Still, though the players knew they were in, Syracuse wasn’t announced until near the end of the selection show.

“We were thinking, is there any chance that we could be out? Is there any doubt?” junior guard Andy Rautins said, smiling. “That certainly wasn’t the case. We proved to everybody that we can compete with the best teams out there. We’ve done it all year.”


Syracuse, one of seven Big East teams to make the field of 65, finished the regular season at 23-8 overall and 11-7 in the conference. In November, the Orange beat Kansas, seeded third in the Midwest, and won at Memphis, the second seed in the West, in December.

Against the upper echelon of the Big East, which has three No. 1 seeds in the tournament, Syracuse was: 0-2 against Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and the top-seeded team in the tournament; lost both games of a home-and-home series with Villanova, the No. 3 seed in the East; lost at Pittsburgh, the top seed in the East; lost at Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the West; and beat No. 21 Marquette, the sixth seed in the West, on the road.

Cleveland State, seeded 13th in the Midwest, handed the Orange their first loss of the season in mid-December on a 60-foot shot at the final buzzer in the Carrier Dome.

All of that was forgotten on Sunday night, though. This is a team that has endured a brutal Big East regular season and is playing its best basketball.

The Orange were still a tired bunch on Sunday night, but not too tired to smile.

“I’m just happy to be in it. You hear all the stories about how fun it is to play in the NCAA tournament, how you will never forget it for the rest of your life,” said sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, named the Big East tournament MVP. “Without what happened in New York City, we would have been in there, but it’s just good to be in there.

“We missed this two years in a row,” added Flynn, who played 67 minutes in the win over Connecticut, all 45 in the victory over West Virginia, and a mere 34 minutes against the Cardinals. “It was just so exciting to see the look on coach Boeheim’s face, coach (Bernie) Fine, people that are used to being in it.”

Boeheim’s tournament record stands at 40-24, and both he and the team were glad for an extra day of rest. The tournament gets under way in earnest on Thursday.

“We’d be happy to be playing anywhere,” Boeheim said. “I’m glad we’ve got until Friday, we should be fine on Friday. But if you’re not playing a 16 (seed), you’re playing somebody that can beat you. We’ve played a lot of big games, a lot of tough teams. We’ll be ready.

“We started out playing pretty well this year, but I really believe that this is by far the best that we’ve played,” Boeheim said. “We played great against Louisville. That was the best first half we played all year. We’re ready to go.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide