There was something that felt inevitable about the Syracuse Orange's 71-68 loss in the Big East Tournament seminfinals on Friday to the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Orange had cheated losses with remarkable runs, surprise efforts and game-saving grace so often this season, Orange fans spent much of the last two months waiting for the inevitable.
And thank God the inevitable happened here, where it ultimately didn't matter. The loss doesn't end Syracuse's season. The loss doesn't ruin their NCAA Tournament seed. The loss doesn't affect their standing whatsoever.
The loss does drive home to this group that they are not invincible. And perhaps had the game been a minute longer, they might have actually pulled it out. But it wasn't and they didn't.
At the moment, at least, the Orange enter the NCAAs the unquestionable No. 2 team in the land. They will be a one seed. They will be expected to win their region and emerge in the Final Four. But this loss will hang over them in the week leading up to the first game of the tournament as a reminder of their foibles and how easily it can all end.
Here's the good news. Despite the struggles and deficit, they almost won the game. And they almost won the game because they never stopped fighting. It's cliche but this team does not quit. Technically, they could have laid down in the second half and it would have been no consequence, but they refused to.
As for what's going on with the seniors, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, I wish I knew. Between Senior Day and the Big East Tournament, Scoop has devolved into Sophomore Scoop and the idea of him leading this team into the NCAA Tournament is once again a terrifying proposition. I've always been wary of Scoop, even as be put together a solid senior season, but clearly he's still capable of all the mistakes and issues that earned him that reputation to begin with.
Perhaps Scoop is putting too much pressure on himself to be "the guy."
"I need to be more aggressive and more assertive in the offense," Jardine said. "I’m not really looking for my shots. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a little confused out there. It’s nothing anybody’s doing. It’s not what coach is saying to me. It’s me. I gotta get with it so we can get on and try to win this national championship."
The truth is, if Kris and Scoop keep this up, their senior season will be over sooner than later.
At least Dion Waiters woke up in New York. The Sixth Man scored 28 points on Friday and a total of 46 points in two games. Whatever mojo the others have lost, he's certainly gained back.
The Bearcats were a machine from three-point range in the first half, making eight of their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc. If you've been a Syracuse fan long enough, you know that if we let people hit their threes, there's not much else that can be done. That Cincy cooled down in the second half was a big part of how the Orange were able to chip away at the 17-point deficit and march their way back into the game.
So the Orange won't be able to win the Big East Championship. It's a bummer but it's forgivable. There are bigger fish to fry. And if SU can take this loss, realize what went wrong and how to fix it and take that newly-placed chip on their shoulder into the NCAA Tournament, so be it.
We'll find out where, when and who they'll play in the NCAA Tournament Sunday evening.