I believe Vince Lombardi summed up what last Saturday night was like for Syracuse Orange basketball fans when he asked, 'What the hell is going on out here!' From officials seemingly having a vendetta against basketball players wearing white to Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph missing lay ups like they're playing in an Old Man's League down at the Y. The loss to Ohio State for the Orange was really the exact opposite of the entire season.
Where Syracuse handled just about anything coming their way throughout the year, Saturday the team seemed rattled. Where multiple Orange men would pick up the slack, only Brandon Triche came to the rescue with big buckets (although I thought Scoop Jardine and CJ Fair both played, at times, well). Of course, the Buckeyes do deserve credit for winning. Jared Sullinger was, in a limited fashion, a beast in the paint. And Lenzelle Smith Jr. pulled something of a Gerry McNamara, getting bloodied and stiched and then coming out and hitting some big shots.
It had to end and by the way Kentucky is playing, the odds of the season ending cutting down the nets weren't good (although the odds of the Wildcats forfeiting the title while John Calipari coaches in the NBA are just as high). While we're all still processioning the loss, confused at how it could end in that form, I figured I'd give my take on some points of contention from the season ending loss.* John Higgins, Thomas O’Neill and Michael Nance - Those are the names of the three officials who butchered what should have been a great game. Higgins, O'Neill and Nance called 49 total fouls. Obviously, tournament pay for officials is based on actual time on the court. In the end Syracuse lost the game, but don't forget how bad those three were. The old line about officials goes something like, 'Call it tight or let them play, but just be consistent.' The truth is we'd all rather the officials just let them play. All things equal Ohio State was probably the better team, but we'll never know for sure thanks to the officials.
* Aaron Craft - For as much as I yelled about the officiating Saturday, I practically lost my voice (and mind) listening to Bill Raftery drool over the Buckeye sophomore guard. In watching Craft through the year I know he is talented and Saturday did prove he had a nose for the ball. It was, however, very obvious that Jardine and Waiters could blow by Craft with ease. The high screen left the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year back while Jardine got to the rim multiple times. Again, Craft is talented and I would love to have him be a defender on my team, but he had zero impact on Syracuse losing the game.
* Boeheim's Coaching - I've heard and read that Boeheim should have sat Kris Joseph more. He should have pressed more. Why did Boeheim sit Jardine late in the game? I'm not going to counter those questions because, A. Boeheim knows this team better than anyone, and B. there's a bigger point to be made that seems to get lost amongst SU fans. Now that the season's done we can all take a step back and truly appreciate how great of a job James Arthur Boeheim did in coaching this team. The stats are amazing (34-3, 17-1 in the Big East), but what he did is bigger than numbers. To withstand the Bernie Fine circus, replacing and then reintroducing only to replace Fab Melo, and the general media glare. Most coaches would have wilted, but Boeheim led by example for his team and the team followed. No loss of locker room, no sign of dissension. Amazing highs and lows and Boeheim kept it all together to get back to the Elite Eight. Question his moves if you want, but understand no other coach could do what he just did.
* Syracuse The Evil - Over the weekend Greg Couch of Fox Sports created some buzz by asking, 'Where's The Heat On Boeheim?' I'm not going to rehash the column, but Couch's point speaks to a bigger issue. A lot of the media seems to look at Syracuse as the 'bad guy.' They point to this season's messes off the court (including the flap over APR) and finger Boeheim as the ring leader a corrupt circus. The poster child team for what's wrong in college athletics.
It's a lazy approach by some in the media who probably have something of an axe to grind with Boeheim. His personality of essentially hating all media save Dan Patrick and Tony Kornheiser may be starting to bite him. The Fine situation is all sorts of sick and is more of a referendum on society, not athletics. Fab Melo's possible inability to do school work speaks to character issues. And as for the 'drug scandal?' I think there's a reason Yahoo! Sports hasn't done much with it since the initial report came out. No one knows anything concrete on it. The last two issues are much more common in collegiate sports than anyone cares to admit. All together though, Syracuse is not SMU from the 80s, but some in the media want them to be and they want to make SU pay. My guess is that fades by next fall.
The loss stings for many reasons, but the season should be remembered for the good, not the bad. Although the off-court story lines were plenty and very strange, the on-court drama was amazing. Leaving us wanting more, the sign of a quality show and the reason we're all fans.