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March 15, 2009

The Myth of Syracuse 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:05 pm

There will be a ton of discussion tonight and in the next 72 hours devoted to this year’s Syracuse team and the fatigue factor. I mean, seriously, get ready for this meme to be absolutely beaten into dust before your eyes: Will the Orangemen “have their legs”? Will they be seeded in a Thursday or Friday bracket? Even if they win the first game can they possible win the second?

Part and parcel of that conversation will be repeated references to Jim Boeheim‘s 2006 Big East Tournament champions, who rode hot shooting from Gerry McNamara to four wins in four days and a Big East tournament championship, only to lose by eight in the first round of the NCAA tournament to an up-and-coming Billy Gillispie and his twelfth-seeded Texas A&M team. To this day Boeheim likely believes his team lost that game because they didn’t have their legs against the Aggies.

Maybe Boeheim’s right. It was after all one of those dreaded Thursday games in a far flung-locale: in this case, Jacksonville, Florida, some 1100 miles away from the Carrier Dome.

Then again Jacksonville’s also zero time zones away from upstate NY, far preferable to Boise for a team whose locale is further east than coastal cities like Wilmington, NC, Savannah, and, yes, Jacksonville. Moreover this particular Thursday game was also the last one of the evening, tipping at 9:55 at night. Lastly there is of course the fact that Syracuse won their Big East championship on Saturday night. For them to play the following Thursday is equivalent to any ACC, Big Ten, or SEC conference tournament champion playing the following Friday. Big deal.

I think Syracuse might have lost because, as a five-seed, they were almost certainly the most over-seeded team of the tempo-free era, one that could not beat a correctly slotted 12-seed. In Big East play that season the ‘Cuse was outscored by their opponents by 0.08 points for every possession they played, a level of performance equal to what teams like Cincinnati and Iowa have achieved this year within their respective conferences.

Historically the committee has remained admirably level-headed when confronted with one of these four-wins-in-four-days teams–witness the 14-seed they gave Georgia last year. But for some reason the 2006 committee plainly got swept up in the G-Mac Mania, giving a five-seed to a team that had proven over the course of 16 games that they would be a decided underdog against A&M on a neutral floor, as indeed they were.

For all I know this year’s Syracuse team may prove to be decisively hampered by fatigue in the first or second round. But if they are, the 2006 team is not an apposite precedent.

BONUS fun fact! This ain’t just ancient history we’re sifting, folks! In today’s high-turnover one-and-done era, a surprising number of current Orangemen saw quality minutes with that ’06 team. Eric Devendorf averaged 27 minutes a game while Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku each at least got off the bench in 20-plus games.    

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