ESPN’s renowned bracketologist Joe Lunardi had SU seeded fifth in his latest NCAA tournament projections. But those were released before the Orange men defeated Villanova, 69-64, in Philly Monday night, so I assume he would have them as a fourth seed if the brackets were finalized today.
And, who knows? Should Syracuse defeat Georgetown on the road Saturday and wrap up the regular season with a win at home the following Saturday vs. DePaul, they could conceivably climb to a third seed because they would have finished 12-6 record in college basketball’s most talented conference.
Of course, it’s folly to project too much when it comes to Big East games. In his latest brackets, Lunardi projects 11 teams from the conference making the tournament, five more than the next in line – the SEC and Big Ten – and six more than the overrated ACC. The anybody-can-beat-anybody-on-a-given-day cliché has never been more true than during this Big East season.
Syracuse appears to have righted itself after following an 18-0 start with a six-losses-in-eight-games swoon. Although he could have made his point with less sarcasm and more class, Jim Boeheim was right recently in saying that people overreacted to the ‘Cuse’s tailspin, forgetting the rugged, dog-eat-dog nature of the Big East.
The Orange men are in good shape heading into the conference tournament and NCAAs. They are 23-6 and riding a three-game win streak. In the ’Nova win the other night, they showed much more life on defense, getting out on shooters. And they kept their cool down the stretch when the game was on the line, especially when they needed to convert the victory-clinching free throws. (How about free-throw-challenged Rick Jackson looking like Gerry McNamara when it counted?)
That’s not to say there isn’t still room for improvement. Scoop Jardine had a big night with 20 points and six assists, but still had a few confounding Scoop-being-Scoop moments. He’ll need to limit those once March Madness arrives. I like the way Brandon Triche has been asserting himself in recent games, though, he’ll need to regain his shooting touch (he’s missed 21 of his last 25 shots) if SU is to dance deep into the NCAAs. Forward C.J. Fair and center Baye Moussa Keita continue to be solid contributors as freshman, and that trend will need to continue because Fab Melo, Dion Waiters and James Southerland aren’t ready for prime time.
With just two games in two weeks, the Orange men will have a chance to recover from the bumps, bruises and strains incurred during rugged Big East play.
So it appears they’ll be in good stead heading into the Big East and NCAA tournaments. The last two games will determine how much momentum they carry into the post-season and what kind of seeds they’ll wind up with.
The SU-Georgetown series still matters to both schools, but it’s not nearly as intense as it used to be. And I doubt it will ever be that way again. Part of it has to do with John Thompson relishing the villain role much more than his son does. And part of it has to do with the Hoyas being a mediocre program in the years following Big John’s retirement.
SU fans are understandably pleased with the trade that brought former Orange All-American Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. With Melo back on the East Coast, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him attending games in the Carrier Dome on occasion next year. And it appears that plans to retire his uniform number will go ahead next year.
Author and nationally recognized columnist Scott Pitoniak has covered Syracuse University basketball for more than three decades. His 14th book – a biography about SU coach Jim Boeheim – is scheduled to be published later this year. You can read more of him at www.scottpitoniak.com