- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Time was, college basketball in upstate New York meant the Syracuse Orange and the Syracuse Orange. Not exactly North Carolina-type game up here.

So, welcome to the 2009 NCAA tournament, where No. 13 Syracuse is keeping company with three other New Yorkers: Binghamton, Cornell and Siena.

Only Ohio, with five, has more teams in the tournament. New York, California, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are tied with four, while Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, Utah, and Kentucky have three each. Indiana, one of the cradles of the sport, sends only Purdue and Butler.

“It’s great for upstate New York to have that kind of representation,” said Cornell coach Steve Donahue, who counts 7-foot center Jeff Foote of Lockwood, N.Y., as one of the keys to the Big Red’s second straight NCAA tournament berth. Cornell (21-9), the 14th seed in the West, plays No. 7 California in the first round.

“All the teams seem to be doing very well right now,” Donahue said. “Syracuse is doing a terrific job, but it’s nice to see other teams. It’s very refreshing. There’s enough players for sure.”

Syracuse, powered by Niagara Falls, N.Y., natives Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn and homegrown star Andy Rautins, remains the class of the upstate NCAA field. The Orange (26-9), which lost on Saturday night to top-seeded Louisville in the Big East championship game, are seeded No. 3 in the South region. They will play No. 14 Stephen F. Austin on Friday and many experts are expecting big things of them.

Siena, in the tournament for a fifth time, is hopeful of adding to its opening-round stunner a year ago, an 83-62 win over Vanderbilt. The Saints are seeded ninth in the Midwest, the highest seed in school history.

Siena, which has six players from New York state, including second-leading scorer Edwin Ubiles of Poughkeepsie (14.6 points per game), finished 26-7 and won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles. Coach Fran McCaffery’s club had a power rating in the high teens late in the year after going 16-2 in the conference, posted an average margin of victory of 16 points in the MAAC tournament, and beat tournament-bound Northern Iowa in the February bracket-buster competition.

Siena plays eighth-seeded Ohio State in Dayton in the opening round.

“To be given that level of respect on a national stage is a great feeling,” McCaffery said. “We were rewarded by the committee. They saw what we’ve done.”

Second-year head coach Kevin Broadus led Binghamton to the first NCAA tournament berth in school history just eight years after the state university moved up to Division I. The Bearcats (23-8), who tied Vermont for the regular-season title in the America East Conference, defeated defending league champ UMBC 61-51 on Saturday.

Riding a school-record 11-game winning streak, Binghamton is seeded 15th in the East and will face second-seeded Duke in the first round.

“This year was an unbelievable ride for me personally,” said Broadus, who relies heavily on the play of point guard Emanuel Mayben of Troy, N.Y., a former Syracuse recruit. “These guys showed me what a true champion is all about.”

Boeheim has been criticized over the years for not leaving New York before the start of Big East play, preferring to regularly schedule upstate foes such as Colgate and Cornell. And the Hall of Famer, in his 33rd year at his alma mater, might just be a big reason for all this success.

Scheduling upstate teams not only helps showcase the Syracuse program to prospective recruits, though the Orange’s success over the years isn’t much of a secret in these parts, it also means the opposing teams receive a hefty financial guarantee that helps those teams in recruiting.

There’s not a coach who isn’t effusive in praise of Syracuse for that, and it’s not a surprise that tempers flare when an upstate opponent doesn’t play to its potential in the Carrier Dome.

New York nearly had more representation in the field of 65. Buffalo, which almost upset Connecticut in December, lost to Akron in the Mid-American Conference final.

“I wish we would have won, but I think it’s awesome for the state,” Buffalo athletic director Warde Manuel said. “We have a SUNY school making it for the first time. There are so many story lines. New York has always been a great basketball state.”

“Niagara, no one even talks about them,” Donahue added. “With 26 wins, they may have had the best season of all of us. Unfortunately, they’re sitting behind Siena.”

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