Break out your torn apart/taped together brackets and call dibs on the best seat in your living room; the Final Four has arrived. Before I begin this post, I want to give Syracuse fans a moment to reflect on the irony. Yes, I am a lifelong, die hard UConn fan. Yes, I have somehow ended up in a position where I have to celebrate the basketball history of my most hated rival. Now wipe that grin off your face and collect yourself.
Ready? Let’s continue.
The truth is even a biased, semi-delusional UConn fan can acknowledge Syracuse’s talent and historical prestige. After making it to their fifth Final Four with convincing, double-digit wins over No. 1 Indiana and No. 3 Marquette, the Orange is just two wins away from its second national championship.
Sure, this team is good, but how do they compare to the teams of yesteryear? Can any of the current Syracuse players be listed among the best to ever wear orange? I explore these questions and more in a historical analysis of Syracuse and the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA Tournament History
Overall record: 60-35 (36th Appearance)
Sweet 16 appearances: 21 (1957, 1966, 1973, 1975 1977, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013)
Final Four appearances: 5 (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003 and 2013)
National titles: 1 (2003)
Five Greatest Teams
5. 2008-2009 Orange (28-10 Sweet 16)
The 2008-2009 season was an interesting one, to say the least. Despite being knocked out in the Sweet 16, the 2009 postseason was arguably the most memorable in Syracuse history. Why? Well, you may recall a little matchup with the UConn Huskies that just so happened to go into six overtimes. With a final score of 127-117, the Orange outlasted and ultimately outperformed the Huskies in one of the most iconic games in NCAA history.
Don’t worry. I didn’t select the ’08-’09 squad as the fifth-best team of all-time based on one amazing game. With five players averaging double digit PPG, this team was a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention the fact that they featured one of the most feared backcourts in the country, made up of Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn. Well deserving of the five spot.
4. 2012-2013 Orange (30-9 Final Four)
Is this year’s squad one of the best there has ever been? Absolutely. With 30 wins and counting, the 2012-2013 Orange are just the sixth team in program history to achieve a 30+ win season. An impressive combination of hustle and length, this squad is perfect for Jim Boeheim’s famed 2-3 zone. Throughout this tournament, ‘Cuse has held their four opponents to an average of 45.75 PPG, with an average margin of victory of 20 points.
This season’s success has been a true team effort. C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and Michael Carter-Williams all average double digit points, with 14.3, 13.7, 13.5, and 12.1 PPG, respectively. If you’re more of an ‘intangibles’ type of fan, this team has plenty of that, too. With Triche’s heart and leadership skills as well as Southerland’s ability to knock down timely threes, this team has all the tools to bring home the title.
Can they put it together at the right time? We’ll find out soon enough.
3. 1986-1987 Orange (31-7 National Runner-Up)
The ’86-’87 Orange should be on everybody’s short list for the greatest Syracuse teams of all-time. They were the first Syracuse squad to have a 30+ win season. They were also the first team to represent Syracuse in the national title game, ultimately losing a heart breaker to Indiana on a last-second shot by Keith Smart.
With a perfect combination of seniority and fresh young talent, seniors Greg Monroe and Howard Triche (Brandon’s uncle) led by example, while talented freshman Derrick Coleman and sophomore Sherman Douglas showed Syracuse fans why they had a bright future ahead of them.
2. 2011-2012 Orange (34-3 Elite Eight)
In my opinion, the 2011-2012 Syracuse squad is the most talented team in program history. After starting the season with a remarkable 20-0 record and finishing the regular season on a 10-0 run, the Orange delivered one of the most dominant regular season performances in NCAA history.
The postseason was a huge disappointment for the Orange, however. Despite sky high expectations, they failed to win their Big East semifinal against Cincinnati, and fell to Ohio State in the Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament. If it weren’t for their disappointing finish, the 2011-2012 squad would be a sure frontrunner for the greatest team in program history.
1. 2002-2003 Orange (30-5 National Champions)
If you have any sort of base understanding of Syracuse basketball, then this No. 1 pick should come as no surprise. The ’02-’03 squad was the first and only Orange team to win it all. With a star-studded roster featuring Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, this team set its sights on a national championship early on, and achieved that goal with relative ease.
The Syracuse Orange have been to three national title games and have only won once. That pretty much makes the 2002-2003 squad a lock for the greatest Orange team of all-time.
Five Greatest Players
5. Jonny Flynn, Guard, 2007-2009
Before you jump down my throat for not putting Jonny Flynn higher up, allow me to explain. This is a list of the top five greatest players in Syracuse history. This is not a list of the top five greatest players who also happened to go to Syracuse. Flynn put up some amazing numbers in his two years with the Orange, averaging 16.6 points per game and an incredible 6.0 assists per game, but with only two years in Syracuse, it’s difficult to put him any higher than the five spot.
Flynn began his freshman year by setting a new school record for most points in a freshman debut; a record formerly held by Carmelo Anthony. This was a fitting start to an excellent year for Flynn, who was later named the co-Big East Rookie of the Year. The following year, he was selected to the preseason All-Big East team. After an outstanding sophomore season, Flynn declared for the 2009 NBA Draft and was selected sixth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
4. Hakim Warrick, Forward, 2001-2005
Hakim Warrick is the definition of the sort of growth that every college basketball coach dreams about. Initial expectations placed Warrick in a backup role at best. However, after averaging 6.1 PPG his freshman year, he upped that number to 14.8, 19.8, and 21.4 PPG his sophomore, junior, and senior year respectively.
Warrick was a big part of the 2003 NCAA National Championship victory, as well. His most memorable moment was his block of a seemingly wide open three point attempt which would have tied the game with 1.5 seconds to go. That block effectively won the Orange its first national title and is, without a doubt, one of the fondest memories in the minds of Syracuse fans everywhere. Warrick was selected 19th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft and has been playing in the NBA ever since.
3. Derrick Coleman, Forward, 1986-1990
After beginning his Syracuse career as part of that magical ’86-’87 team that ended with the program’s first national championship appearance, Coleman quickly progressed to become one of the most dominant players in Syracuse history. For three out of the four years he spent with the Orange, he averaged a double-double, recording an impressive 17.9 PPG and 12.1 RPG his senior year.
Coleman went on to win a number of honors, including Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman and Big East Player of the Year as a senior. He was named to the Big East All Conference Third Team his freshman year and The Big East All Conference First Team the three years after that. Coleman then went on to become the only Syracuse player to be drafted first overall in the NBA Draft, leading to a 15-year professional career with the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons.
2. Carmelo Anthony, Forward, 2002-2003
Former Syracuse stand out and current NBA superstar, Carmelo Anthony has always been at the top of his game. An offensive juggernaut who averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game his freshman year with the Orange, Carmelo has become one of those iconic players who are simply known by one name (i.e. Kobe, Michael, or LeBron). He was the biggest reason why Syracuse won the national championship in 2003 and is widely considered to be the most talented player in program history.
In fact, the only reason he’s not number one is due to his extremely short stay with the team. Had he stuck around for even one more year, there would be no way I could hold him back from taking the title. According to Anthony, he never planned on being a one-and-done player, but after accomplishing so much his freshman year, he simply felt the timing was right.
His list of accolades include the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, the consensus NCAA Freshman of the Year, Second-Team All-American, All-Big East First Team, and the consensus Big East Freshman of the Year. I guess you could say that he had a pretty decent freshman year.
He was drafted 3rd overall by the Denver Nuggets in 2003 and played for them until 2011, when he was traded to the New York Knicks. He remains to be one of the NBA’s very best and still has a long, promising career ahead of him.
1. Gerry McNamara, Guard, 2002-2006
Gerry McNamara is the greatest player in Syracuse history. Like Melo, he helped lead the Orange to their first national title, averaging 13.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game his freshman year. Unlike Melo, he stuck around for three more years, continuously improving and providing invaluable time and effort for the Orange.
His legacy lies in his clutch, late-game heroics, however. Famous for rising to the occasion when Syracuse needed a last-second basket or a larger-than-life performance, Gerry hit countless buzzer beaters and earned the love and respect of Orange fans everywhere. He is, without question, a true fan favorite in Syracuse. After playing international ball for a while, McNamara came back to Syracuse as a graduate student and graduate manager. He eventually filled a void left by Bernie Fine in 2011, following Fine’s dismissal from SU.
Perhaps his mere presence on the bench will be enough to will the Orange to a second national championship. You never know.
2012-2013 Syracuse Orange
The Syracuse Orange are no strangers to deep tournament runs. With five Final Four appearances and a remarkable 21 visits to the Sweet 16, the Orange are well prepared for the steep challenges and pressures that come with competing for a championship. That being said, this year’s Final Four appearance is extremely important to the program, which has not seen a national semifinal matchup since they won the whole thing in 2003.
There is, however, one question that still remains: Will Saturday mark the end of the road or will Syracuse go on to win their second title? Perhaps the result will fall in between these two extremes. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the matchups. The Michigan vs. Syracuse semifinal has the potential to be one of the best games of the tournament this year. Featuring one of the nation’s premier offenses vs. one of the nation’s premier defenses, this game is, in many ways, the embodiment of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
If the 2-3 zone is active and Syracuse can manage to knockout the red hot Wolverines, its next opponent will likely be a rematch of the Big East Championship versus Louisville. That is, of course, assuming that Wichita State doesn’t pull off the mother-of all-upsets in the semifinals. Louisville was the No. 1 overall seed going into the tournament, and they have proven to the world that the decision was no fluke. I don’t see them going down without a fight.
With the added emotional charge of the Ware injury in the back of their minds, this already-passionate Louisville team is likely to explode in their last two games. Syracuse needs to shake off the intimidation factor and do what it did to the Cardinals early in the Big East Final. Louisville will make a run at some point, but if the Orange can withstand the barrage and respond late in the game, I don’t see what’s stopping them from winning it all.
Stranger things have happened. It’s March Madness, baby! Get excited!