End of the Orange Road
pblackwell, Fri, March 27th, 2009
You could say it ended when Tony Crocker hit that first 3-pointer. Or when any of the trey attempts from the side in Orange clanged off rims, all 10 of them. Or when Blake Griffin ran over Jonny Flynn. or when the whole Oklahoma squad ran over Syracuse at the start of the second half.
Whatever you theorize, the fact remains the same - it ended for Syracuse on this Friday night in Memphis, taken out in the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 by Oklahoma in an 84-71 game that didn't play that close, really.
Hours, days and weeks will be spent in the post-mortem - what went wrong, who screwed up, who should get the blame. It's the American way - find a villain, even if isn't rational.
But that's a tired exercise. And it should not disguise the unique nature of this 2008-09 SU basketball season, where the Orange once again made the nation pay attention, and mostly for good reasons.
That first notice got served in late November, when the Orange beat Florida, then went to overtime to beat Kansas right in the Jayhawks' backyard of Kansas City. As an appetizer, it proved quite tasty, SU showing it could score and rebound inside (with Onowaku, Jackson, Harris and Ongaenot) and outside (with Flynn, Devendorf and Rautins) and, in the clutch, be quite tough.
From a record standpoint, the only blemish in December was that half-court shot Cleveland State used to stun the Orange. Off the court, though, it nearly fell apart in the tumult of the Eric Devendorf case.
Either Devo was a famous athlete targeted because of his fame, or a punk that got off easy. Fortunately (and eventually), the university found that the truth lay in the middle and Eric, neither saint nor angel, paid his penance. He also watched SU go without him to Memphis and beat the Tigers, another good omen.
On to the awesome, deep, imposing Big East. Getting the easy part first, SU goes 4-0, but the middle gets rough - 10 games and just three wins. Of those seven losses, four came to teams that would make the Elite Eight.
Just in time - late in February, to be exact - SU ended the slide, won four in a row to insure an NCAA spot, then went to New York City.
Only by reaching the Final Four could the Orange eclipse the legend built by that six-overtime Russian novel with Connecticut. Just as amazing was the fact that SU won another OT game a night later, in the semifinals against West Virginia. Officially, this team had captured Orange hearts for good.
Really, the NCAA part of the story could not come close to matching what had gone on at MSG. A first Sweet 16 trip in five years may not have matched what the other Big East megapowers did, but it wasn't shameful, either.
Now what? If they all came back, SU could seriously dream of the 2010 Final Four. But if he's a first-round pick, how could Jonny Flynn resist?
Flynn or no Flynn, SU will be fine at point guard because if he's gone, Brandon Triche, fresh off his back-to-back state titles at Jamesville-DeWitt, is more than ready to take over. No, Triche can't dribble as well, but he's taller, bigger and just as fearless.
Again, speculation can wait, and sorrow is for parts of life (like the floods in the Upper Midwest) that are truly sorrowful. This is basketball, and Syracuse made it quite fun this winter.