Six years seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?
For most Sryacuse Orange fans, the 2003 season seemed like a dream you never woke up from.
It started with a first-round win over Manhattan. Then came the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma St. A stop into the SEC with Auburn. Elite Eight matchup with Oklahoma. Hello Mardi Gras Final Four with Texas.
And then it ended with a "holy crap we won the championship" moment against Kansas.
And really, what did it take?
Oh, just 33 points from Carmelo Anthony against Texas in the seminfinals, six first-half three-pointers by Gerry McNamara and a Stretch Armstrong performance by Hakim Warrick in the championship.
After that, for weeks we saw Jim Boeheim parading around Syracuse in his orange pirate hat. Life was good.
Fast forward six years and all SU fans have squeezed out of its basketball program is a memorable Big East title run in 2006. Life has not been as exciting.
Entering the 2008-2009 season, not one SU follower was doubting the talent level of the squad.
Most of the surrounded whether the Orange could replace the scoring threat of Donte Greene, or if Jonny Flynn good enough help them survive the rugged Big East Conference.
Orange followers had glimpses of a good team, but with no huge win against the Big East elite, doubt lingered.
But when Flynn and Paul Harris carried the team on their backs in a six-overtime victory against UConn on Mar. 12, SU nation nodded its head in agreement.
"This is a team we can believe in."
Two weeks later, the Orange need two big wins too reach another Final Four. And like most upstate New York sports fans who cling to the smallest amount of hope, SU has people believing the impossible.
The new question now is whether or not the 2009 Orange are the slightest bit as good as the 2003 Orangemen?
The answer: Yes (the keyword being "slightest").
2003 Orangemen (championship lineup): C-Craig Forth; PF-Hakim Warrick; SF-Carmelo Anthony; SG-Kueth Duany; PG-Gerry McNamara; bench-Josh Pace, Billy Edelin, Jeremy McNeil.
2009 Orange (second round lineup): C-Arinze Onuaku; PF-Rick Jackson; SF-Paul Harris; SG-Eric Devendorf; PG-Jonny Flynn; bench-Andy Rautins, Kristof Ongenaet, Mookie Jones.
In 2003, the key name, of course, was Anthony, who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds in his only season at Syracuse. 'Melowho was huge against Texas and, even with a back injury, was great in the second half against Kansas could be considered the single greatest player SU ever had.
Warrick was the inside dunk monster who averaged 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. McNamara was the freshman sharp-shooter who avareged 13.3 points.
Duany, who was possibly the most underrated player on the team, collected his season average of 11 points in the championship game.
And of course, you cannot forget about the "old school" style of Edelin and Pace. Each created tough matchups for opponents off the bench.
The 2003 Orangemen, who averaged 79.6 points per game, had so many weapons it was unfair. They could go inside with Anthony, Warrick, Pace, or Edelin, or snipe it from long range with McNamara, Anthony, or Duany.
But the 2009 squad has playmakers of its own.
Much like 'Melo, Mr. Flynn needs no introduction.
He has become a national name and nobody needs to breakdown his game. He’s the superstar in this 2009 story.
Devendorf brings man yof the same tools as Flynn. He can hit the open three-pointer or dash inside with his left hand.
His decision-making kills the Orange at times, but in the clutch, SU enthusiasts want Devowho is averaging almost 16 points to have the ball.
He has the perfect combination of cockiness and confidence that a player needs to perform in the clutch.
Harris (12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG), Onuaku (10.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG), and Jackson (8.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) lead a bigger, stronger, and more dynamic inside core than the 2003 team.
If you matchup Forth, McNeil, and Warrick against this trio, they would be pushed around and worn down by game’s end.
Off the bench, Rautins adds long range fire power and great defense at the top of the zone. Ongenaet, much like Forth, brings a self-less, can-do attitude.
Offensive advantage: 2003, because you just can't say, "well, if you take out Carmelo..."
Advantage: 2003, because both SU teams play the 2-3 so much, we can cut to the chase and admit the Orangemen's length made them so much tougher.
With 'Melo, Duany, and Warrick at the top of the 2-3 zone, nobody could toss a pass inside. The Orangemen made it extremely tough on the Big 12 teams, who were not as big or athletic.
Like most SU teams, their weakness was the three-point shot. If teams were making it, the Orangemen were in for a tough day.
If not, the opponent needed a heavy dose of aspirin for the headaches they'd have by games’ end.
The Orangemen's defensive rebounding was much better in 2003 as well. How many times has SU let an easy defensive board just slip away this season?
Too many to count.
In 2003, it seemed Warrick was always inside snagging a rebound, 'Melo was using his gifts from the basketball gods to grab put-backs, and McNamara and Edelin were finding their ways into the lane for a board.
But for the 2009 Orange, their defensive strength comes from their quickness and heart.
When they're on, Devo, Rautins, Flynn, and Harris each create a zone that can be just as claustrophobic as the 2003 team. Onuaku and Jackson challenge a lot of shots and with their athletic size.
But sometimes you wonder if the opponent wants the rebound more. This could be the key aspect of getting past Oklahoma or the winner of the Gonzaga-UNC game.
You have to give the edge to the Orange. In no way should SU have won that six-overtime game.
I know. I watched it.
They played a team that dominated them in the regular season. SU never led at any point in the first five overtimes and, be honest, no team recovers from mentally thinking they've won, especially with a three-point buzzer beater.
The team packs it in, says, "well that was a nice try," and prepares for the NCAA Tournament.
Not this team.
This team gutted it out, and that is the single reason I think the 2009 Orange have a chance to make it back to the Final Four.
It's the heart and talent of Jonny Flynn, the confidence of Eric Devendorf. The gritty play of Paul Harris...and the 'fro-hawk of Andy Rautins.
For SU followers, this title would mean more than in 2003 because it is a blue-collar team that fights to the end and never gives up.
They're not the most talented team left in the tournament. But I can tell you one thing, after that Mar. 12 performance, they want it more.