Syracuse basketball fans have enjoyed a very good period in recent times.
The past decade in particular has offered a few Elite Eights, a couple Final Fours and that elusive NCAA championship they’ve been dreaming of for so long.
Add to that, a few overtime thrillers, fantastic recruiting and a 900th win for Jim Boeheim, who has patrolled the Syracuse sideline for his entire coaching career.
With Syracuse coming off of its latest trip to the Final Four, Orange fans have enjoyed more than a taste of good basketball living; they’ve grown accustomed to the high life. With the metropolitan lights of the Big East in the rear view mirror and the grunge of Tobacco Road and the ACC on the horizon, Syracuse fans have a new reason to rejoice with a whole conference full of teams that are not accustomed to playing against the Boeheim zone.
Regardless, Syracuse has found success against ACC teams over the past decade. The Orange played 11 games against ACC foes over the past 10 years and have a 10-1 record to show for it, including a win over North Carolina in 2009 in the 2K Sports Classic Championship at Madison Square Garden.
Let us now take a look back at the last decade of Syracuse basketball and remember some of the greatest moments.
Wesley Johnson transferred to Syracuse by way of Iowa State. He was a decent scorer and a good rebounder who made the Big 12 All Rookie Team and, as a sophomore, was honorable mention All-Big 12, despite an ankle injury that caused him to miss time.
Johnson red shirted after his transfer and prepared for the 2009-10 season. Syracuse lost Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris and came into the season unranked with few expectations. Despite this, Coach Jim Boeheim hyped Johnson as a very good player who would turn a lot of heads.
Johnson, who was teamed up with upperclassmen Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku and an underrated Andy Rautins did not disappoint. Complemented by and a few youngsters named Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche, Johnson took the nation by storm and quickly was recognized as one of the best players in the nation with his early dismantling of ranked schools such as North Carolina, California and Florida.
Led by Johnson, Syracuse would go from unranked to No. 1 in the nation after outclassing No. 8 Villanova in front of an on-campus NCAA record crowd. This was the first time in 22 years the Orange would hold a No. 1 ranking.
Syracuse went into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed, but would lose Onuaku to injury. Despite this, Syracuse glided into the Sweet Sixteen by defeating Gonzaga, paced by Johnson’s 31 points and 14 rebounds.
The Orange would fall to Cinderella Butler, but Syracuse could hold its head up high after one of its best seasons to date and could look back as that season being the return of Syracuse to Elite status in the nation.
For his part, Johnson was selected the Big East Player of the Year, and was also a First Team All-American.
Johnson, already 23 years old, would jump ship and become the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft.
March 12, 2009, No. 18 Syracuse met No. 4 Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
In regulation, the close game came down to the final seconds when UConn tied the game with 1.1 seconds on the clock. The next play saw a Paul Harris pass find Eric Devendorf, who launched a three that appeared to win the game as time expired, but it was ruled too late and the game was thrust into overtime…
…or rather, overtimes.
Six of them to be exact. The epic marathon saw the two teams clawing at one another with Syracuse not being able to grab a lead in any of the first five overtimes. Finally, in the sixth overtime, Syracuse broke away and at close to 2:00 a.m., Syracuse was on the winning end of arguably, the greatest game in Big East Tournament History.
Fueling this win was the little train that could, Jonny Flynn. Flynn played 67 of the 70 minutes, scored 34 points, assisted on 11 baskets, stole six balls, went 16-for-16 from the free throw line and even contributed a block. Amazingly, Flynn only committed two fouls in the duration of the game.
For his effort, Flynn was named the MVP of the tournament.
Often forgotten are Paul Harris, who played 56 minutes and scored 29, while grabbing 22 boards and going 13-of-14 from the charity stripe and Andy Rautins, whose 20 points were driven by 6-of-12 shooting from three.
In 2006, Syracuse was a bubble team in need of a convincing run in the Big East Tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Enter Gerry McNamara.
In the first game, Syracuse trailed Cincinnati by two in the closing seconds. Driving the length of the court, McNamara floated a one-handed three to win the game as the clock hit zero.
In the second game, there was more of the same heroics, this time against top-ranked UConn. McNamara hit a three to put the game into overtime, and helped guide Syracuse to the bonus-time win.
On the third night, McNamara, who Jim Boeheim defended in a colorful manner after a school newspaper claimed an assistant coach called him overrated, led a Syracuse comeback over Georgetown. With the ‘Cuse down 15, McNamara’s five threes in the second half and a stellar driving bounce pass to Eric Devendorf brought Syracuse back from elimination and a date in the finals with Pitt.
Pitt proved to be the easiest win of the four games in four nights, then a Big East Tournament record. McNamara’s shooting helped stave off a Pitt run and earned the legendary senior the MVP honors of the Tournament.
McNamara’s run is on the short list of greatest moments in Big East Tournament history and provided a fantastic bookend to a fabulous career.
As usual, Syracuse lost a handful of players to the draft and graduation. Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph all departed, but the cupboard was far from bare.
Upstart Michael Carter-Williams, joined with C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and James Southerland, entered the season as the No. 9 team in the land and would remain in the top ten for the majority of the season.
The talented squad was inconsistent at times, as it struggled from various areas, such as free-throw shooting, scoring and ball control. The Orange entered the Big East Tournament losing four of its final five games and needed a good run to improve tournament seeding and get its groove back.
Guided by stellar defense and Southerland rediscovering his shooting touch, the Orange overcame Seton Hall, Pitt and Georgetown on its way to a finals date with Louisville.
Syracuse would run out to a 16-point lead, but Louisville, the eventual national champion, proved a worthy adversary and went on a 28-3 run to capture the title, but the Orange’s faith in itself was intact.
In the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse would use stifling defense to dispatch California and Montana to earn itself a matchup with No. 1 seed Indiana. Again the defense stepped up and thrust Syracuse into the Elite Eight for a second consecutive year. This time, the opponent would be Marquette, a team that beat Syracuse earlier in the year.
Syracuse held Marquette to a mere 39 points, sending the Orange to its fifth Final Four.
The Orange would fall short against Michigan, but the run was rejuvenating to the Orange and Jim Boeheim after a lackluster finish to the regular season.
Technically, there have been 10 years and a few months since the 2003 national championship, but it’s close enough.
After two heartbreaking trips to the finals as head coach, Jim Boeheim finally got the monkey off his back with his first national title. Boeheim himself would tell you that winning that game does not make him any better a coach, just as he wouldn’t have been a worse coach if he lost that game.
But he didn’t and thanks to freshmen phenoms Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara and a timely block by Hakim Warrick, Syracuse took out Roy Williams’ talented Kansas team, the fourth Big 12 team the Orange faced in the tournament.
Needless to say, this was not only the defining moment of the last ten years, but likely the defining moment of the program’s history.