Like many other Syracuse fans, I was both angry and confused by the NCAA’s decision not to invite the Orangemen to the tournament. I saw some handwriting on the wall that things weren’t as easy as everyone thought, but even given that, I was still shocked when the announcement was made.
However, the decision by the NCAA committee did not cost Syracuse a national title. Despite their recent improvement (and they are a much better team in their past ten games than they were in the first 2/3 of the season), the Orangemen are still a dysfunctional team, where the team total is less than the sum of the parts. The Orange could probably match up and stay close with most every team in the tournament on any given night, but even now are quite capable of losing against the Oral Roberts or Wright States in the tournament. I think they would likely have gone one and out, maybe won two, before they left.
Instead, the NCAA shipped Syracuse off to the NIT. And something wonderful happened. Something very memorable. Syracuse fans showed they weren’t just whining or complaining. Rather, they showed they truly cared. In a world where actions should speak far more than words, 16,832 Orange fans bought tickets and went to the Carrier Dome last Wednesday to cheer the Orangemen on. They gave the Orangemen a 5 minute standing ovation during their shoot-around. All of this without the students (who were on spring break) to lead them on, something that is usually a prerequisite for this type of action.
And the Orangemen responded by giving the Syracuse fans a solid played game, even if it took the seniors thirty minutes to get into the game (and who can really blame them, since the NIT really is the end for them). Eric Devendorf put on a memorable 34 point show, single handedly carrying the team until Demetris Nichols started scoring in the second half, and Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts started playing defense and grabbing some rebounds. The Orangemen were 17-20 from the charity stripe that night, and had only 10 turnovers, both high marks for a team that often shot itself in the foot this season. The Orange were able to overcome some amazing (and lucky) perimeter shooting by South Alabama.
It was a game to be proud of in regards to how the team responded down the stretch, how they were able to put South Alabama away, and how the fans responded. After the game ended, Syracuse fans were even more rabid for tickets, as the demand became high enough that Syracuse had to stop the on-line sales of tickets. In what could/should have been a downer post season, I now have anticipation for Monday night's game against San Diego State.
So we’re not going to win a national title this year. And quite probably, we won’t win the NIT title (though, we could). But the memory of Syracuse fans showing they truly do care for the players, and the memory of Syracuse’s players responding in like, is something to cherish. At least it is for me. And other than a miraculous run through the NCAA tournament, what could have more value than that? 10 years from now, I’ll still remember this (including the snub). I wouldn’t remember if we 1 and out in the NCAA, or 2 and out.