The Final Four of the 2016 NCAA Tournament has been set and basketball fans will learn who will play for the national championship this weekend. Looking at three of the four teams vying for a spot in the title game, any fan would automatically think that things have been par for the course this year.
However, the Syracuse Orange, who have a been a traditional power in years passed, are far from being the same dominant team they were in the early 2000s. That did not stop them from surprising the entire basketball world and advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
After that year, where they fell just short of making the national title game, the Orange suffered a harsh fate, as they were barred from the 2015 postseason and had to vacate more than 100 wins from the 2004-05 through 2011-12 seasons due to NCAA sanctions. This year, they came into the season with high hopes of doing something big, but the Orange were pretty disappointing, posting a 19-12 regular season record and suffering an embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
Jim Boeheim’s club was essentially dead in the water as they were hoping for a good seed in the National Invitational Tournament, or the NIT. However, that NIT bid did not come as they were given a No. 10 seed and a first-round match-up against the No. 7 seed Dayton Flyers, much to the dismay of many NCAA Tournament “experts,” who did not believe they were worthy of a spot in the Big Dance over some teams like South Carolina and UAB.
As fate would have it, the Orange beat the Flyers and were lucky enough to get Middle Tennessee State, a No. 15 seed who also upset the No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round. Again, Syracuse won and got a game against the No. 11 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen. A late comeback against the Bulldogs sent the Orange to the Elite Eight, where they played the No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers last Sunday night.
The two ACC rivals met earlier in the year, with the Cavaliers taking the 73-65 victory. The Orange found themselves in a hole at the half, trailing by 16 points and it looked the clock was going to strike midnight on their Cinderella story. However, they found the glass slipper early and used a 25-4 run in the second half to pull off the unbelievable comeback victory, 68-62, making them just the fourth double-digit seed to make the Final Four and the first since VCU did just that in 2011.
As the Orange, who have been national champions before in 2003, gave a proverbial De-Generation X crotch chop to everyone that doubted them, they find themselves facing another tough opponent they are familiar with: the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels, much like the Cavaliers, are a No. 1 seed, highly favored over the Orange, and beat them twice this year.
The table is set for North Carolina to cruise to the national championship game for the first time since 2009, but the Orange will not say die. Not yet, anyway.