East Regional MOP Michael Carter-Williams
The 2013 Syracuse Orange head off to Atlanta as the fifth Syracuse team to make it to the Final Four.
Interestingly, those five teams have been spread out at one per decade going back to 1975. Each team has been unique and took Syracuse fans on an unforgettable journey, with the 2003 team cutting down the nets as NCAA champions.
Does that make the 2003 team the best of the five Final Four teams?
Where does the 2013 team rank in Orange history?
Sounds like a pretty good discussion to me, so let's have at it. I'm making a Final Four appearance a prerequisite for inclusion on this list. So, we're looking at the 1975, 1987, 1996, 2003 and 2013 teams and ranking them one through five.
The criteria I used included overall record, Big East record, performance in the Big East Tournament, NCAA seeding and, most importantly, the talent and performance of the individual players. The Big East wasn't in existence in 1975, so I looked at performance in the ECAC tournament that year.
Please chime in and let me know if you agree, disagree or are just laughing your head off.
Carrier Dome, Syracuse NY
It may seem hard to believe, but in 1975 Syracuse was not coached by Jim Boeheim, nor did they play in the Carrier Dome in front of crowds of 30,000.
No, they played in musty, old Manley Field House, with a capacity of 9,500 fans. There was no Big East or—gasp—ESPN!
The Orangemen—as they were known then—played in the ECAC and were not nationally known as they are today. Coach Roy Danforth (how strange does that sound?) was worried about making the NIT with his team at 14-7 and struggling.
The NCAA tournament included only 32 teams in 1975 and things did not look good for aSyracuse bid as they headed into the ECAC tournament. Syracuse advanced to the final against St. Bonaventure, where Rudy Hackett put the team on his back, scoring 32 points and grabbing 21 rebounds.
That gave Syracuse the NCAA automatic bid awarded to the ECAC.
In the first round, La Salle missed a last-second shot that would have won the game in regulation. Syracuse pulled out a 87-83 OT win.
Next came the North Carolina Tar Heels. Guard Jimmy Lee hit a jumper with five seconds left to give Syracuse a one-point lead. When North Carolina turned the ball over, Syracuse escaped again.
In the regional final, the Orangemen faced Kansas State. A Rudy Hackett layup at the buzzer sent the game to overtime where Syracuse prevailed, 95-87.
In the Final Four Syracuse played the No. 2-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who proved too much for them, winning 95-79.
Jimmy Lee was the tournament's leading scorer with 119 points and made the All-Tournament team.
The Orangemen were led that year by second-team AP All-American forward Rudy Hackett, who averaged 22.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game.
Lee averaged 17.2 points, while center Chris Sease averaged 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.
The 1996 Orangemen had a terrific season, going 29-9 and 12-6 in the Big East. And it almost didn't happen.
Star forward John Wallace came very close to leaving for the NBA after his junior year. Point guard Lazarus Sims had spent his first three seasons barely playing and not coming close to living up to the hype afforded the local star from Syracuse's Henninger High.
The stars then aligned.
Wallace decided to come back for his senior season, and Jim Boeheim had no choice but to hand the keys to the offense to Sims when guard Michael Lloyd left school just prior to the season.
Wallace was spectacular. Once Sims stopped looking at the bench to see if he would be replaced, he took those keys and ran the offense to perfection.
The Orangemen that season conjured up memories of the 1988 NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks, who were known as Danny and the Miracles. Star Danny Manning put that team on his back and they won it all.
Wallace was a second-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big East selection as he averaged 22.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Fellow senior Sims finally lived up to the legend he brought with him from the local Syracuse playgrounds. From the opening tip, Sims took control of that team and handed out 7.4 assists per game.
While Wallace clearly earned all of the attention and accolades he got, his unheralded fellow front-liners were nice contributors.
Center Otis Hill averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds, while Todd Burgan averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.
This Syracuse team didn't have a ton of talent, but it bonded and played together as well as any I've seen.
What a roller coaster ride this Orange team has taken us on.
The beginning of the ride was spectacular, as Syracuse went 18-1 and rose to a ranking of No. 3 in the country.
The middle of the ride...not so much. The Orange went 5-7 the rest of the regular season. Not only did they lose seven times, they did it in a way that set offensive basketball back decades.
Suddenly senior guard Brandon Triche—a career 35-percent three-point shooter—couldn't hit the rim from beyond the arc. The offense lost all flow and the horror peaked in Washington, D.C. as Georgetown beat the Orange 61-39.
It was horrific.
That would have been the time to travel to Vegas and put a couple of shekels on the Orange to get to the Final Four in Atlanta, because they must have had tremendous odds.
The ride is not yet over, but the last part sees the Orange at 7-1. The only loss was to Louisville in the Big East tournament final, a game that saw the Orange playing their fourth game in four nights. Their legs ultimately gave out. They lost a 45-29 lead with 15 minutes left.
You know the rest. James Southerland shot threes like they were layups in the Big East tournament and just as quickly as the Orange lost it, they regained it.
This might not be the best Orange team ever, but it is the best defensive team I've ever seen. As good as the Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins-led 2009-10 team was defensively, this team is better.
The length of the guards at the top of the 2-3 zone is suffocating Orange opponents. I submit as evidence the 61-50 win over Indiana. The Hoosiers were one of the best offensive teams in the country and could do nothing against the Syracuse zone. Guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche outscored Indiana's Jordan Hulls and Yogi Farrell, 38-0.
The 6'6" Carter-Williams and 6'4" Triche made Hulls and Farrell look like hobbits as they penetrated and did what they wanted to in the lane.
This team is balanced in scoring. C.J.Fair averages 14.3, Triche 13.7, Southerland 13.5 and Carter-Williams 12.1.
Carter-Williams has been spectacular in handing out 7.4 assists and nabbing 2.7 steals per game.
The best stories are the unexpected ones. Such was the case in 1987 when Syracuse was faced with replacing legend Pearl Washington with a sophomore point guard who hadn't played much as a freshman.
If you hadn't heard of Sherman Douglas back then, you were in the majority. As a high-schooler from Washington, D.C., Douglas wanted to play for Georgetown. The Hoyas, however, had no interest in the small Douglas. His only scholarship offer was from Old Dominion.
Once again, stars aligned.
Late in the recruiting game, Syracuse found themselves with an extra scholarship when highly regarded New York City point guard Greg "Boo" Harvey hit some academic problems. Assistant Wayne Morgan convinced head man Jim Boeheim to give that scholarship to the Douglas kid from D.C.
Douglas would leave Syracuse as the NCAA career leader in assists. He set the record for assists in a single NCAA tournament in 1987 with 49 dimes.
The 1987 Orangemen were an interesting collection of players. The starting lineup had two lightly regarded seniors, a sophomore no one had heard of, a junior who had more soccer experience and a very highly recruited freshman.
The seniors were Greg Monroe and Howard Triche, the uncle of current Orange guard Brandon Triche. Monroe had scored very little in his first three seasons and there were doubts that he could contribute much as a senior. Fools.
Monroe averaged 12.9 points and had one of the best three-point shooting seasons in Syracuse history, making 43.9 percent of his long-range shots.
Triche was a solid, smart player who chipped in with 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
The unheard-of Douglas led the way with 17.3 points and 7.6 assists per game while earning first-team All-Big East honors.
Junior center Rony Seikaly earned second-team All-Big East honors, averaging 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Derrick Coleman still stands as one of the all-time Syracuse greats. As a freshman, he averaged 11.9 and 8.8 rebounds per game.
All-Timer Carmelo Anthony
Jim Boeheim had never been fond of "one-and-doners." That all changed in 2003
Carmelo Anthony is the poster boy for being able to succeed with a great player only in college for one year. He put the young Syracuse team on his back and took them all the way.
They were terrific that year, finishing 30-5 and 13-3 in the Big East. That team may have been the one that established the now well-known fact that Syracuse's zone is so tough because of their unbelievable length and athleticism.
Bookend 6'8" forwards Anthony and Hakim Warrick were just so big and covered more ground than anyone had seen before. 6'6" Kueth Duany was so hard to shoot over at the top of the zone.
The 2003 team could run like all Syracuse teams before it, with 7' center Craig Forth joining Warrick and Anthony as outstanding rebounders who could start the break. Duany, Warrick and Anthony did a great job of getting out and filling the lane for layups and dunks.
Not only could this team run, but they also could shoot the basketball. While there's no disputing how great freshman Anthony was, had he not been on the team, another youngster would have gotten much more publicity.
Gerry McNamara came to Syracuse along with Anthony. McNamara could fill it up from three, hitting 35.7 percent that year while averaging 13.3 points. He played like a senior the second he stepped on the floor.
It was a great run through the NCAA tournament for the Orangemen. They beat Manhattan and Auburn in addition to Big 12 teams Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in advancing to the Final Four.
There they met another Big 12 team in the semifinals, the Texas Longhorns. Carmelo's 33 points led the way as Syracuse moved on to the championship game.
Another Big 12 team, Kansas, was waiting for the Orangemen. The game was in the Superdome in New Orleans, the same arena that saw Keith Smart hit from the corner to beat Syracuse in 1987.
As the clock wound down, Syracuse held a three-point lead as Michael Lee rose to shoot a three from virtually the same spot that Smart shot from. Here's where the legend of length and athleticism took hold.
Warrick was in the middle of the lane when the ball swung to Lee. He got out to the corner in a flash, rose and blocked the shot.
Anthony was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player and most amazing freshman ever to play in the tournament. But...
Fellow frosh Gerry McNamarra was 6-of-6 from behind the arc in the first half of that game. Let me say that again. McNamarra made six threes in the first half of the national championship game as a true freshman. A game won by three points.
Are you kidding me?
That's why the 2003 team gets my vote as best ever.
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