Syracuse and Connecticut and Madison Square Garden...and inevitability.
Now if this was football we'd all complain about corporate fangs sinking into our sports-watching reality. College football's post-season, after all, is where bowl game match-ups are generated like kids cycling through teams on Madden.
Minnesota is playing Syracuse in Texas? Okay, but can we add snow?
But for hoops, except for some uppity-ups breaking down the field in Indianapolis, there's an exact opposite feel come tournament time. March is raw, it's unscripted, it's anything but corporate. (Save the hundreds of corporations sponsoring the tournament. By the way, have you had a Coke Zero lately?)
And yet I can safely say, whether it be due to those presidents and basketball know-it-alls in Indy or just divine-basketball fate, Syracuse is destined to face Connecticut in the East regionals in Madison Square Garden. I mean, how the hell does that game not happen? It feels like the most corporate-y of Madison Avenue match-ups -- two programs that consider NYC home, that have a rather tangled history, meeting for a winner-take-all in the NCAA tournament.
Yet it's too juicy not happen organically, right? You hadn't thought about it until now, have you? But now that you've swished around your noggin, you definitely think it's happening, yeah? It just has to.
But the question is: how are the projections looking? Well, let's have a look at the way-too-early projections for the NCAA tournament.
- Joe Lunardi of ESPN - Syracuse: East Region; 1 seed; Connecticut: Midwest Region, 3 seed
- Jerry Palm of CBS Sports - Syracuse: East Region; 1 seed; Connecticut: Midwest Region, 2 seed
I'll stop right there. Not because I think Joe and Jerry are the end-all be-all of college basketball tournament projections, but because they're two of the few lunatics willing to do it on a fairly regular basis this early in the season. Yet, judging by those two December thoughts on March, SU vs. UConn in the Garden doesn't seem too likely for '14.
Still, what I think we can glean out the first six or so weeks of the season is that both the Orange and the Huskies are probably in line for a fairly good seed. I know Connecticut was stunned at home against Stanford -- a fairly difficult loss to swallow. But my guess is between now and then the two teams will end up with solid records. Which may lead some to the next question: why is there even a chance that both teams will hit the Madison Square Garden stage in March?
The East region culminates in Manhattan. In fact, Syracuse, should it keep playing well, could end up playing in Buffalo and New York City before heading to the Final Four. And as for NYC, fittingly enough, the East is scheduled to play the Elite Eight on Friday and the regional championship on Sunday -- because the return of March Madness to the Mecca of college basketball could never be played on a forgettable Saturday. No, the World's Most Famous Arena is meant for stand-alone Sundays.
Which is ultimately why I think it's inevitable Syracuse and Connecticut will find their way into the East region. That they'll find their way into the opposite ends of the same bracket. That the Orange and the Huskies, who have given us so many unbelievable moments in the Garden...
Actually, let's take a brief pause from this paragraph to show you a couple of those memorable moments, shall we?
Wait, I mean, we could show the '05 Big East tourney win -- the semifinal game that propelled the Orange to their first Big East tournament title in 13 years. And of course, who could forget '06? Gerry McNamara's run through NYC included an amazing game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. But nothing may top that '09 quarterfinal. Six overtimes? In a quarterfinal of a conference tournament?
Only Syracuse and Connecticut.
I can hear some of the Orange fans now, "What about Georgetown?" And with the Big East dissolved, if it's not Georgetown, "What about St. John's and Villanova? At the very least, for some fans, those two are already on the schedule as they should be. And those Hoyas may end up being on the schedule for the next ten years, as they should be. It's almost like there is a Big East safety net surrounding Syracuse's high-wire ACC act -- sure it's a new world, but the old favorites aren't far behind ready to catch the Orange.
But you know it's totally different without Connecticut. You may not want to admit it, but things will forever feel kind of wrong without the Huskies vs. the Orange -- even if Kevin Ollie has replaced Jim Calhoun. It's exactly why Syracuse and Connecticut in the East regionals, in Madison Square Garden, the very year the two real rivals stopped playing schedule games, is fate.
The fact that the NCAA Big Wigs will "decide" the NCAA tournament field is almost irrelevant. Their job, as far as I'm concerned, is already done: Syracuse and Connecticut are made to play each other this March in the Garden. One more time unlike any other time before.
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