Syracuse is going to the Final Four. Here's why that wasn't supposed to happen.
— Syracuse wasn't supposed to come back from a double-digit deficit against Virginia. UVA was 68-0 when leading by 10 at the half in Tony Bennett's seven years at Virginia, thanks to the style of play Bennett plays. The Cavaliers are increeeeedddiiiiibbllly sloooooooooooooow, 351st in the nation in tempo, and incredibly consistent on both sides of the ball. That makes it nearly impossible to fight back when they have big leads. So when Syracuse found themselves down 16 in the second half, they could've assumed they were done for.
They didn't. They switched to a full-court press, and Virginia's cohesion vanished. When the Cavaliers got the ball across halfcourt, they rushed shots, and sometimes they couldn't even get the ball across halfcourt. And Malachi Richardson caught fire, providing 10 points in a 15-0 run that gave the Orange a lead they'd never give up.
Syracuse wasn't supposed to come back from a double-digit deficit against Virginia. But they sped up America's steadiest slowpokes, and now they're going to the Final Four.
— Syracuse wasn't supposed to make it out of the second round. They were a 10-seed, and no 10-seed has ever made the Final Four. And they were staring down a second-round matchup against Michigan State, the team picked to win the national championship in more brackets than anybody else. By comparison, Syracuse was picked to make the Final Four .4 percent of brackets.
But Middle Tennessee State knocked out the Spartans in the biggest upset of all time, and Syracuse did the rest. They walloped Dayton by 19, they drubbed MTSU by 25, they came back from a double-digit deficit against Gonzaga — sound familiar? — and then did it again against Virginia. For a few rounds there, you could make fun of the sub-par opponents Syracuse played, but after beating the top-seeded Cavaliers, that's not an excuse anymore. They beat some bad teams, and they some OK teams, and now they've beaten a legitimately great team.
Syracuse wasn't supposed to make it out of the second round, but they pantsed everybody in their path, and now they're going to the Final Four.
— Syracuse wasn't supposed to make the dang NCAA Tournament. The Orange had a legitimately lackluster season. They went 9-9 in the ACC. They lost a game to garbage St. John's. St. John's! After beating Syracuse, St. John's went on to lose 21 of their final 22 games.
Syracuse had an RPI ranking of 68, lower than any team ever selected to make the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. They had more losses to teams that missed the NCAA Tournament (five) than they had wins against teams that made it (three). Of 144 bracketologists represented in the Bracket Matrix, less than half considered the Orange a tourney team.
Why did the NCAA selection committee put Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament? Hell, I have no idea. But they did! And it's my official opinion in retrospect that they made a good decision.
Syracuse wasn't supposed to make the NCAA Tournament, but they got in, and now they're going to the Final Four.
— Syracuse isn't supposed to be a Cinderella. They're Syracuse! Cinderellas play in teensy gyms and you've never heard of the school, its players, or its coach. Syracuse has broken its own NCAA record for most-attended on-campus basketball game over a dozen times, and Jim Boeheim is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But now, they're a Cinderella. Jim Boeheim has taken every slight against Syracuse and he's gotten RANKLED. The NCAA hates him! The bracketologists hate his team! The media hates his team! And although he's acted publicly upset, I get the sense he's smiling inside. Jim Boeheim is a hater at heart, and haters feed off your disrespect. Boeheim made Syracuse believe they were the unloved underdog Syracuse is never supposed to be.
Syracuse isn't supposed to be a Cinderella, but I get the sense Jim Boeheim likes being a Cinderella, and now they're going to the Final Four.
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All the reasons this doesn't make sense are still true.
Virginia really is unbelievable at closing out games. They really were unlikely to make it out of their very tough bracket. Syracuse's regular season performance was not a fictional agenda manufactured by Syracuse haters — they really did play all those games and lose a decent amount of them. (St. John's! They lost to St. John's!)
Syracuse's Final Four run doesn't disprove all those facts. Those facts prove why Syracuse's Final Four run is absolutely amazing. All those things I said about Syracuse are true, and they're in the freakin' Final Four. All those things I said about Syracuse are true, and they're two wins from winning the national championship. That's unbelievable.
What makes March magic isn't when teams that are supposed to be good turn out to be good. It's when teams like Syracuse beat the odds, the expectations and a bunch of opponents they're not supposed to.
Syracuse took all the reasons they shouldn't be in the Final Four — their methodical, unfazeable opponent, their low seed in a tough bracket, their poor regular season performances, the disrespect from bracketologists, and yes, yes, yes, the hate! — and they threw it all in a crockpot, let it simmer, and made it into Final Four stew.
And please, keep saying bad things about Syracuse — it seems like Jim Boeheim will appreciate it.
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