On a night when the top two ranked teams in the country lost, there is no doubt in my mind which team should be ranked #1 come Monday. Syracuse should leap over Purdue and have that distinction. The Orange have earned the right to bask in a #1 ranking. Look at their resume: 7-0 versus top 20 teams. 6-0 versus top 10 teams. 11-0 in road and neutral court games. 14-2 in the Big East, and 27-2 overall. A #3 RPI score that is surely to gain some strength with tonight’s win.
In my opinion, teams should be ranked by voters on what they have accomplished, not on how good you think they are, or how they will finish the season. The rankings in college basketball are ultimately meaningless, as college basketball does it right, and has a tournament that ensures that the best teams all get a shot at winning the title and in the end, we will know who is the true champion. But along the way, we do have rankings, to allow teams and fans to understand how good have they been that year. It is an honor for the players and fans to get that recognition.
I know it is hard for the media to rank Syracuse #1. They did not have them ranked in the preseason, and at that time most of the media probably couldn’t have spotted Syracuse’s top two players, Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson, in a police lineup. Syracuse does not have McDonald’s All-Americans out there this year. They do have guys who have developed themselves into outstanding college basketball players, and in at least one case, an NBA lottery pick (Johnson).
Syracuse plays a defense that confounds highly experienced NCAA coaches, so there is no doubt that most of the media does not understand it. It is not sexy. They play zone defense, and most people think of five guys packing in tight to the basket, daring the opposition to shoot over them. As the educated Syracuse fan knows, that is not how Syracuse’s zone works. Syracuse pushes the guards out, inviting guards to try to pass into the lanes where they forwards anticipate and cut off the pass. Syracuse invites the guards to drive the lane where they collapse upon them. They invite the opposing team to pass the ball to the corners where they player is promptly trapped by two Orangemen and two sidelines.
Of course a hot shooting guard can make the zone look bad. But that same hot shooting guard can make a man to man defense look equally bad too. It’s just that with the zone defense, the knee jerk reaction is that it’s the zone defense fault.
And congratulations to the Syracuse fans for a highly successful Orange Out, all 34,616 of them. A boisterous sea of Orange with the largest on-campus crowd in NCAA history showed their best to Villanova and to the national television audience. The weather did not keep them home. This was one of those rare moments, where weeks of anticipation for a big game gave big dividends.
I do not know who will end the NCAA season as the National Champion, nor for that matter who will even win the Big East Tournament coming up. I do know, however, who the #1 team in the nation is tonight, and that is a bunch of hard working guys coached by Jim Boeheim and calling Syracuse their home.