Syracuse Basketball: 5 Moments You Shouldn't Mention to an Orange Fan
Being a fan of Syracuse basketball has its perks.
Coach Jim Boeheim perennially fields a formidable squad that has won 20-plus games a year in arguably the toughest conference in the history of college basketball: the late Big East.
Boeheim’s ability to recruit players who can play his style but also adapt his teams to his players' strengths has kept Orange fans happy, culminating with Syracuse’s first NCAA tournament championship in 2003.
But it hasn’t all been roses.
Early exits from the tournament, being left out of the tournament, player injuries, academic suspensions and a sex abuse scandal are all to be accounted for when looking back at the sometimes agonizing life as a Syracuse fan.
Case in point, the 2003 championship team was actually Syracuse’s third national championship but the first two were in 1918 and 1926, meaning Syracuse fans waited 77 years between championships.
It's not quite the Chicago Cubs, but futile nonetheless.
The 60s saw the arrival of Dave Bing, who brought the program back to national prominence. In 1975, Roy’s Runts would make a run to the Final Four and two years later, Jim Boeheim took over as head coach.
Starting with the Louis and Bouie Show and the emergence of the Big East, Boeheim’s Orange have been a force to be reckoned with. The team has given its fans a lifetime of fantastic basketball but the sweet cannot be as sweet without the bitter.
And bitter they got.
Here’s a look at some of the bitter of the past 35 years.
While it’s difficult to judge which moments are more significant than others, I used a reliable rubric to rank the moments of Syracuse despair…
A polling of Villanova, Georgetown, UConn and Louisville fans has given me a clear insight into which buttons Syracuse’s enemies like to push to get under the skin of Orange fans.
Just missing the top five are a few terrible moments in Orange history.
They start with the questionable offensive foul called against Brandon Triche in the Final Four against Michigan this past tournament.
Another also-ran is the terrible backcourt violation called against Scoop Jardine in the second round of the 2011 tournament against Marquette, with the score tied and just under a minute left in the game.
Finally, we have the leg injury suffered by Arinze Onuaku in the Big East tournament against Georgetown which would keep Onuaku out of the NCAA tournament where the Orange, as a No. 1 seed, lost to Butler by four points in the Sweet 16.
The rest of the top five are in no particular order as they all carry a similar sting.
The Bernie Fine Scandal
It’s nearly impossible to know exactly what happened in the Bernie Fine incident. There were accusers who made up stories and others who were denied any potential retribution by the 10-year statute of limitations and a federal investigation that led nowhere.
But there was that tape ESPN provided which painted a disturbing picture of the relationship between Fine, his wife Laurie and former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis.
The scandal led to the firing of Fine, who had been at the side of Coach Boeheim his entire tenure with Syracuse and marks one of the darkest moments in Syracuse hoops history.
John Thompson and Manley Field House
On February 13, 1980, the No. 2 Syracuse Orange men took a 57-game home winning streak into the last home game of the season in what was the last scheduled game in Manley Field House.
Manley Field House was the basketball team’s home since 1962 but would give way to the much larger confines of the newly built Carrier Dome.
Syracuse led by 14 points at halftime but Georgetown clawed back into the game and shocked the crowd with a 52-50 victory.
After the game, Georgetown coach John Thompson exclaimed, “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
And so began one of the most bitter rivalries in college basketball.
Fab Melo Ineligible
Fab Melo spent the majority of his freshman season in Jim Boeheim’s doghouse with his proclivity for making boneheaded plays.
His sophomore season was one of the most pleasant surprises in Orange history.
All of a sudden, the kid who could do no right played his way into becoming the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
That 2012 Syracuse team was one of the deepest and most talented teams in Orange history and one of only two or three teams that was in the discussion for a national championship.
The chink in the armor would come with a midseason three-game ban for Melo due to academic reasons. During this ban, the Orange would suffer its only defeat of the regular season, a tough road loss to Notre Dame.
Melo would come back and all would seem right, but just before the start of the NCAA tournament, it was announced that Melo would not be with the team for the NCAA tournament, mortally wounding the Orange, which would encounter and lose to a physically gifted Ohio State team in the Elite Eight, killing any dream of a national championship rematch against Kentucky.
Melo would leave for the NBA and Orange fans were left to wonder what could have been.
Tony Delk and Kentucky Take the 1996 Title
In 1996, a John Wallace-led Syracuse team would make an improbable run to the NCAA final to face one of the most talented teams ever assembled.
Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino, whose first coaching job was given to him by Jim Boeheim as an assistant at Syracuse, boasted a team with nine players who would go on to the NBA.
Syracuse was no slouch, having made it to the finals on the back of Wallace and a few other miracle moments which included a Jason Cipolla’s miracle shot among others, but the Orange only went seven deep and had a bench that included Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Syracuse played a tough game by slowing the pace, but an injury to Lazarus Sims would hurt Syracuse’s chances and seven threes made by Kentucky’s Tony Delk served as coffin nails.
Nevertheless, Syracuse got within four points with just over two minutes to go but Kentucky proved to be the more talented team.
By the way, did you know Cipolla is going out with Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos and Goodfellas? 'Tis true. Cipolla, who was working for the Teamsters, met Bracco while working on the set of The Sopranos.
Coleman and Smart
Not a lot to say about this one as it still pains many Syracuse fans.
Freshman Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have put Syracuse up two and potentially three. Keith Smart came down and hit a jumper in the closing seconds to give Indiana a lead it would not relinquish.
While Coleman takes the heat for this loss, it should be remembered that Coleman had 19 rebounds in the championship game and it was Howard Triche who missed the free throw that allowed Smart to get Indiana within one and set up one of the great finishes in tournament history and one of the worst moments in Syracuse lore.
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