Syracuse Completes Turnaround And Is Final Four Bound

It was the site of their greatest humiliation, and now it’s the site of their greatest triumph. On March 9, the Syracuse Orange walked out of the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. dejected, scoring a pitiful 39 points in an embarrassing lost to archrival Georgetown. Exactly three weeks later, it was Syracuse that held an opponent to just 39 points, as the Orange executed yet another brilliant game on the defensive end. This time, the Orange walked out of the Verizon Center with their heads held high and the nets from the Verizon Center’s baskets in their hands, as they marched on to the Final Four.

The loss to Georgetown three weeks ago was the low point of the season for Syracuse, and one of the worst moments in program history. It capped off a stretch of four losses in five games, a stretch that started at home against Georgetown, as the Hoyas broke the nation’s longest home winning streak in front of the largest on-campus crowd in history, and it ended with Syracuse getting annihilated by a suffocating and unforgiving Georgetown defense. Afterwards, Syracuse was essentially left for dead. A significant chunk of the fan base had already given up on the 2013 season and was already looking ahead to next year, when there would be a brand-new backcourt and a handful of talented freshmen entering the fold; and of course the cynical and delusional sect of the fan base was, as always, questioning Jim Boeheim’s effectiveness as a coach and calling for him to retire.

But out of the shame and humiliation the Orange suffered in the Verizon Center that day, a new team emerged in Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament the following week. Senior James Southerland re-discovered his shooting touch, not a game too soon, and became the hero of Syracuse’s wins over Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, making six three-pointers and scoring 20 points in each game. Fellow senior Brandon Triche also started playing with a renewed sense of confidence, as he followed up a season-low two points against Georgetown by averaging 13 points per game during the Big East Tournament. With the players around him finally making shots, point guard Michael Carter-Williams started racking up outrageous assist numbers, much like he did early in the season. The return of Carter-Williams to being a pass-first point guard in the postseason has broken Syracuse out of its funk and made their offense viable enough to win tournament games.

While it was the Syracuse offense that got going during the Big East Tournament and gave the Orange confidence and momentum heading into the Big Dance, it has been the Orange’s defense that has carried the team through the NCAA Tournament. The Syracuse defense has been steady and dependable all season long, but over the last four games they have taken it to a whole new level. They suffocated Montana and stifled Cal during the first weekend of the tournament, setting up a game with top-seeded Indiana and one of the top offenses in the country. Playing against the Hoosiers back in the Verizon Center, the Orange played the 2-3 zone to perfection and kept a team full of outside shooters from getting a clean look at the basket all night long. In the regional final, a Marquette team that should have been familiar with how to attack Syracuse’s defense looked as perplexed as can be, and ended up with the same pathetic 39 point total that Syracuse had on that same floor just three weeks earlier.

In just three weeks, Syracuse completed a most improbable and monumental turnaround, going from a team that scored just 39 points and looked dead in the water to a team that allowed just 39 points and is heading to the Final Four. It was a turnaround that, while aided by an improved offense, was fueled by an incredible defense that looks more impressive each and every game. The fact that they were able to avenge their greatest humiliation just three weeks later with their greatest triumph in the same building is fitting and emblematic of their remarkable turnaround. But the fact that Syracuse was able to cut down the nets in Georgetown’s home arena while the Hoyas sat at home after an embarrassing first round exit is just plain sweet; and a trip to the Final Four isn’t bad either.

Back to the Syracuse Orange Newsfeed