Sometimes, an unexpected team catches fire during the NCAA Tournament and makes an unlikely run. We’re not talking about a team that’s normally outside the limelight like a mid-major conference champion; rather, a team that barely made it and had a rather undistinguished season. And sometimes, that run includes an unexpected win along the way, including the fashion in which it happens.
Sometimes, there’s simply no explaining easily something that happens in sports. Syracuse reaching the Final Four this season, which they did after a 68-62 win over Virginia on Sunday, fits that description.
At the risk of giving an undeserved slight to North Carolina, 88-74 winners over a Notre Dame team that also made an unexpected run this far, there’s only one game and team to focus on from Sunday’s games. North Carolina looked destined to break away from the Fighting Irish, but Notre Dame regained the lead before running out of gas as the Tar Heels then regained the lead and pulled away, getting several key offensive rebounds in the final minutes to help seal the win.
Ted Sarandis and I talked more about North Carolina’s win, as well as Saturday’s games, on our late-night podcast. Make sure you also check out our new poll on a Final Four-related matter.
But from here, it’s about Syracuse.
In November, this would not have surprised many, as the Orange ran out to a 6-0 start that included winning the Battle 4 Atlantis over Texas A&M. They didn’t exactly strike anyone as one of the elite teams in the country, but they looked pretty good and had a nice start on their resume. By January, it would have been a mild surprise, and come the ACC Tournament, many weren’t so sure the Orange deserved to even be in the NCAA Tournament. A loss to Pittsburgh in their first game there had most believing Syracuse was headed to the NIT, so when they showed up on Selection Sunday in the field, there were plenty who were shocked.
When mid-majors have reached the Final Four in the last decade, it has been different than this. George Mason, VCU, Butler and Wichita State all made their runs after they had great regular seasons with a lot of winning. This Syracuse team, on the other hand, had won games, but had lost 13 times – a high number for an at-large team – and had a four-game losing streak and ended the regular season losing five out of six. There was nothing that made you believe they had a run like this in them.
That’s why, as Ted noted in our podcast, this arguably goes down as Jim Boeheim’s finest hour from a purely coaching standpoint. He got this team, a flawed team without a point guard (Kaleb Joseph showed some promise as a freshman, but has played double-digit minutes just four times all season and has played a grand total of a minute since mid-January) and with lots of offensive challenges to make a run to the Final Four.
But more than that, he got this team to press, something he is not a fan of, to come from behind against a Virginia team that seemingly had their number. Tony Bennett had never lost to Syracuse while in Charlottesville, though Syracuse made a late run during their only meeting during the regular season that the Cavaliers had to hold off. This time, Malachi Richardson (21 of his 23 points in the second half) and company were not going to be denied.
The numbers don’t tell the story; Syracuse won despite shooting below 37 percent from the field, including 33.3 percent from deep, and allowing Virginia to shoot 41.5 percent and 38.1 percent in the same categories. The Orange had a slim 36-34 rebounding edge and five fewer turnovers, and that might be the one stat that comes close to leaping out at you.
Simply put, Syracuse in the Final Four is inexplicable. Then again, so much of this season has seemed that way, so it’s only fitting.
Coaching news formed most of the news outside of game action, and it starts with one move that will keep the carousel moving as Kevin Stallings is leaving Vanderbilt to become the head coach at Pittsburgh. One of the highest character men in coaching, Stallings spent the past 17 years at Vanderbilt and seemed like the perfect fit in a tough job, but reports have indicated his job security was in question so it may have just been time for a change of scenery.
Staying in the ACC, Charlotte head coach Mark Price issued a statement saying that he is not interested in the opening at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. Price just finished his first season at Charlotte, where the 49ers went 14-19 overall and 9-9 in Conference USA. Besides that, Price’s son Hudson becomes eligible in 2016-17 after transferring to Charlotte from TCU, and will have two seasons of eligibility left.
Western Kentucky has their new head coach, Texas A&M assistant coach Rick Stansbury. The 56-year-old coach was the head coach at Mississippi State from 1998 to 2012, reaching the NCAA Tournament six times. He has been a key presence on Billy Kennedy’s staff at Texas A&M.
The latest development of them all is the news that UNLV will hire Chris Beard away from UALR. Beard just finished his first, and only, season at UALR, but it was a big one as they went 30-5 and won the Sun Belt, then beat Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. UNLV fired Dave Rice in January and finished the season with Todd Simon as the interim head coach. You can keep track of all the coaching changes right here.
In the CIT semifinals, Columbia got 29 points and six assists from Maodo Lo to knock off NJIT 80-65, and UC Irvine broke away from Coastal Carolina in the second half for a 66-47 win to reach the championship.
- The CBI championship begins with game one of their best of three series as Nevada visits Morehead State.
- The inaugural Vegas 16, which features just eight teams, tips off today with four quarterfinal games: Old Dominion vs. Tennessee Tech (3 p.m. Eastern), Northern Illinois vs. UC Santa Barbara (5:30 p.m.), Towson vs. Oakland (9 p.m.) and East Tennessee State vs. Louisiana Tech (11:30 p.m.)