Wednesday, February 05, 2014
We Are #1
The Syracuse Orange are now the unanimous #1 ranked team in college basketball, following the weekend where they beat Duke in a thrilling overtime game, and former #1 Arizona lost to California. Many fans, and particularly the media, will say this is meaningless.
College basketball, for me, has always been about the journey. It is about the thrill and excitement of each game. It is about how the team grows and develops, and how specific players grow into their roles. It is about the ebb and flow of the season.
The #1 ranking is something to be proud of. It is an accomplishment; it is not the ultimate accomplishment, but it is nevertheless a goal to achieve. The players and coaches work hard for every game, and the #1 ranking gives them, and the fans, a good benchmark for what they have achieved so far.
The post season is important, and it is what you build the season towards. However, I am not a believer that it is National Championship or bust. For me, it is about being the best that you can be. I am not disappointed about an overachieving team losing a game and ending their season; I am disappointed about a team that I had high expectations for bowing out very early in the postseason.
I hold a high importance on winning conference regular season championships. I think it is great to be the best team over a prolonged period of time. I also enjoy it when the team wins the conference tournament. A good run with exciting play in the NCAA tournament is a lot of fun.
I was not disappointed with the 1986-1987 team that lost to Indiana on the Keith Smart shot. That team shook off a lot of demons for the program, allowing the team to advance far into the tournament. Making it to the championship was surreal; the fact they came within a shot of winning it all was unbelievable. It was heartbreaking when they lost, and it wasn’t until the 2003 championship that the heartbreak was totally gone. But I have never considered the 1986-1987 season disappointing.
The same with the 1995-1996 season. That was a proud moment, not a disappointment.
The game is about the moments. The 2003 National Championship was a great feeling, and a fantastic moment, particularly the Hakim Warrick block. It was a culmination of 24 years of being a Syracuse fan, and having it all pay off with a win. Very tough to explain that feeling, but a wonderful one.
It is not my only great memory from Syracuse basketball. Syracuse beating North Carolina in the Elite Eight in 1987 is very high on my list. Other NCAA memorable games include Syracuse beating Georgia in the 1996 NCAA tournament, and Syracuse beating Texas in the 2003 Final Four.
I have memories from games I attended in person. The Syracuse – Georgetown game in 1990 when the Orangemen overcome a large deficit to beat the Hoyas in overtime in front of a then record crowd at the Dome remains a top memory for me. Pearl Washington hitting the half-court shot to beat Boston College in 1984. Gene Waldron bombing Iona with 40 points in the Carrier Classic in 1983. Sherman Douglass setting the all-time assist record and SU scoring record in 1989 versus UConn.
Big games such as the Duke / Syracuse game last weekend are what it is all about. That game was fantastic, and it will remain fantastic, regardless of how the season plays out.
The Big East tournament has brought many great memories. Far too many to mention them all. Pearl Washington versus Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas in the early 80s. Gerry McNamara carrying the Orange on his back his senior season with perhaps the greatest single MVP performance in Big East history.
The greatest moment for me is the Syracuse / UConn six overtime game in 2009 is at the top. That game wasn’t for a National Championship, and it wasn’t even for the Big East Championship. The game was just a quarter final game in the tournament. Yet it was everything I love about college basketball, with two teams playing their heart out, tremendous skill being shown.
Regardless how the 2013-2014 season ends, it will likely end as a great memory to me. They have overachieved in so many ways right now. It is rightful to hope for a National Championship, because this team can win one. However, I don’t think it would be a great disappointment to me if they do not win it. It will be a disappointment to me if they don’t play well in the NCAA tournament, but if they lose to a team that outplayed them , so be it.
Right now the Orange are ranked #1, and that is something I am enjoying. That enjoyment does not disappear because next game, or next week, or next month, they lose a game. Today's moment is today's moment, and that is what is important. I will worry about tomorrow's moment when it presents itself.