When the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 teams came out on Selection Sunday, everyone agreed: Syracuse didn’t belong.
Where was Monmouth? St. Bonaventure? St. Mary’s? Valparaiso?
Instead of rewarding mid-majors for taking on big dogs and beating them, the committee threw the Orange a bone. It factored in Jim Boeheim’s early-season suspension, which saw his team go 4-5 to start ACC play.
“We take that into consideration, just like we take into consideration the availability of players,” Selection Committee Chair Joe Castiglione said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show. “We discuss that as a factor. We are considering it without prejudice.” One of those losses was an 84-72 embarrassment at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s, a team that finished 8-24 as the laughing stock of the Big East. Syracuse also finished ninth in the ACC.
The outcry over ‘Cuse’s berth was loud, and it was justified. Now that the team is in the Final Four? Crickets.
Well, whiny crickets.
The Orange’s run should have shushed much of the nation. What can anyone say? They’ve won. Syracuse’s road to the Fi- nal Four has been a smooth one, yes—No. 7-seeded Dayton, No. 15-seeded Middle Tennessee, No. 11-seeded Gonzaga and No. 1-seeded Virginia. But a team can only play what’s in front of it.
On Sunday, Yahoo’s Chris Chase tweeted that “a team winning in tourney doesn’t justify its inclusion.” This is a stance held by a surprisingly high number of fans and other media members.
And it’s unfair.
“People are writing here in the paper and stuff that we are mediocre,” Boeheim said on March 14, per Chris Carlson of Syracuse. com. “That’s just not true. That’s just a hit at Syracuse. That’s a hit at who we are. We’re in the toughest league in the country and we’ve got nine wins coming back from a 0-4 start. That’s not mediocrity. It’s a balanced league and it’s tough. The tournament is tough to get into. There’s some elite teams in there, quite a few of them, but there’s a lot of teams that are just solid teams. We’re one of them and we deserve to be in the tournament based on the criteria.”
Wins are wins.
Did beltless lightweight Nate Diaz deserve to tap out Conor McGregor at UFC 196 after accepting the fight on 11 days notice? He was far from the most accomplished contender.
Did Jeremy Lin deserve to take over the NBA during his 2011-12 run with the New York Knicks? Up until then, he was a fringe pro at best.
Did the New York Giants deserve to spoil an all-time great season against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? Big Blue was 10-6; Tom Brady and Co. were a perfect 16-0.
The difference in Syracuse’s case is that another party—the committee—supplied the chance. But sometimes in sports, players and teams that have no business being where they are win. They upset the norm. They prove themselves.
No, Syracuse isn’t the lovable Cinderella team we’ve seen in the past like George Mason, Wichita State or VCU. Boeheim was not suspended without reason—“academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow the drug-testing policy and impermissible booster activity,” per the NCAA.
But the Orange—whether they deserved admission to the dance or not—have become the life of the party.
Tom Duffy is a journalism major from Woodbridge, N.J. He can be reached at thomas.duffy@student. shu.edu or on Twitter @TJDhoops.