Syracuse Basketball: National Championship Is There For The Taking

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona's shakiness against Oregon Thursday night may have put some doubt in the heads of college basketball experts about the Wildcats being THE team to beat for the National Championship. Because they are playing well and are next in line, Syracuse will now be in the spotlight. Are they ready for it?

I could say it has been a long time since the Syracuse Orange basketball program has been put in this position, but that would be untrue.

Thanks to an influx of recruiting talent in the past five seasons, good coaching and fan support, the Orange -- currently the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, a 22-game winner and a near shoo-in for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament -- are, again, becoming THE favorite to cut down the nets at the end of the season.

This year, much like the last time SU was in this position, which was in 2009-10, the Orange slowly worked their way into, "this is the team to beat' talks.

(Note: I left out the 2011-12 squad because the Kentucky Wildcats were the team to beat that season. (Mark Titus can argue all he wants that the 2010 tournament was Kansas' to lose, but SU fans know that's not the case.))

At this time last week, the team to beat was the Arizona Wildcats, who held the top spot for eight straight weeks, but, after losing one of its top players for the season, forward Brandon Ashley, during their first lost of the year last Saturday and earning a tight victory, 67-65, over a not-so-great Oregon Ducks team on Thursday, there's now doubt surround their chances.

Sure, there is also the Michigan St. Spartans, who are fronting probably the best league in the nation; the Wichita St. Shockers, who is the squad that has the biggest chip on their shoulders and has proved they have Final Four talent; the Florida Gators, who have NBA talent, a stingy defense and could be led by the most underrated coach in the last 10 years; the Kansas Jayhawks, who possibly have a pair of future NBA All-Stars on their roster; and a half dozen other programs that can make a run if they peak at the right time.

But, no team, entering the meat of the college basketball season, is more of a "sure-thing" (if there is such a thing in college hoops) as Syracuse, which has two future NBA lottery picks -- Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis -- a few more guys that could eventually play professional hoops in America -- C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney -- and a Hall-of-Fame head coach in Jim Boeheim.

On paper, the Orange have the they-got-it resume and because they keep winning, and because they have the pieces, they will start becoming the media's top dog -- which, for the record, comes with the territory when you win and are No. 1 in the nation.

Of course, being the media's favorite means a few things: 1) they will be picked apart by those with strong opinions; and 2) they will be the hunted not the hunter.

What that also means is the National Championship is there for the SU taking. Say what you want about the parity of college hoops, if you take a look at the last eight national champions, nearly all of them were considered THE team to beat entering March.

If things go according to plan -- again, easier said then actually done -- this will be the case for Syracuse heading into the postseason. What that means, well, who the hell knows.

Most pessimistic Orange fans will say it just means another loss of a key player at the worst time, or the inevitable match-up against a hot 3-point shooting team or another fun season ruined prematurely.

The optimists analyze the play of Ennis, Fair and Grant and see consistency, the ability of SU to make the big plays in tight games and see a solid formula for winning in March.

All-in-all, whether Syracuse fans like it or not, the National Championship is slowly becoming Syracuse's to lose. We can all just hope this group is ready to do what other teams in this position have done, and that's win the whole damn thing.

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