More than 250,000 tickets have been sold for Syracuse University men’s basketball games alone. Millions of cups of beer, nachos and Dome Dogs have fueled fans as they watched the Orangemen swim upstream to the final showdown this weekend at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This week’s showdown, which begins Wednesday, March 12, at noon, will determine just how far the small young and depleted team has progressed. It has been a chaotic, often frantic, but always exciting run for Coach Jim Boeheim’s newbies.
The Orangemen (19-12 overall, 9-9 in the Big East) started this season with confidence and experience. The injury to Eric Devendorf and the defection of Josh Wright left them in a precarious position, however, which made for great theater but a tough rest of the season. In fact, for most of the campaign Syracuse had but one player who played Division 1 ball last year. This was often a macabre experiment, one in which the fans saw more excitement than they bargained for. A very young team was forced to grow up quicker than expected and it has kept all SU fans at the edge of their seats.
Foreign exchange: Kristof Ongenaet (holding ball) gave the Carrier Dome crowd a thrill during the Orangemen’s 87-72 victory over Marquette on March 8. With less than five minutes to go, the native Belgian had a tete-ta-tete with Dan Fitzgerald when the Golden Eagle came over the back after Ongenaet snagged a rebound. They twisted and twirled until both players wound up on the floor.
With the ninth seed, SU will meet Villanova, seeded seventh, in the first game, and both teams need to win Wednesday to achieve the holy grail of hoopdom: an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, only one team will achieve that goal.
Preseason favorites Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame and West Virginia have achieved as predicted but this has not been an easy season for any team. The Hoyas have lost only three games but few came easily; Louisville lost four games and only in the homestretch have the Cardinals secured their spot for the NCAAs.
Villanova and Syracuse split the regular season, each winning on the other team’s home court. Whichever team wins gets a tough quarterfinal game on Thursday, March 13, against Georgetown. While SU beat the Hoyas 77-70 on Feb. 16 in the Carrier Dome, the young Orange will have their hands full once again.
In our annual Big East Toteboard, here are the odds each team has of winning the Big East Tournament:
Notre Dame: 3-1
West Virginia: 4-1
Seton Hall: 15-1