It's been 22 years since Syracuse has played North Carolina. The Orange had beaten North Carolina in the '87 NCAA Tournament en route to their Final Four run but the Tar Heels got a modicum of revenge by tipping SU in overtime to begin the season. Since then...nothing. As Cuse Country points out, the only current SU player even alive at that point was Andy Rautins. It was so long ago it was Howard Triche, not Brandon, leading the Orange attack.
Of course, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams have a much-more recent history together. Jimmy B was right, Roy Williams would be back in the title game and now the Orange will take on the defending National Champ for the 2nd-straight season. (That said, expect to see a LOT of video from 2003...not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Whereas the Orange cruised last night, North Carolina had to survive Ohio State's late-game surge.
And then there was the last ten minutes. Up by nineteen the Heels proceeded to rack up eight turnovers, floundered against an OSU press, and stood by helplessly as Larry Drew went 2 for 6 from the free throw line over three consecutive possessions. By the time the smoke cleared, it was a two point game with eleven seconds remaining. Thankfully, an OSU foul before the inbounds play sent Drew back to the line, where he hit both shots to put the game out of reach.
Certainly, SU fans can empathize about the need to hit free throws.
The Tar Heels will of course be preparing for the zone defense that stymied Cal last night. They've got some experience matching up against it, but they're still a work in progress.
The good news is that Carolina has worked on a zone offense - whether they wanted to or not - in every game this season, since that's about 85% of what they've seen defensively. The bad news is that the offense has not always looked fluid. Carolina's ball movement in the halfcourt offense has come light years even since the beginning of the year. It shows with the outside shooting especially - Carolina has gone from making 9-of-26 three's to start the season (34.6 percent) to making 13-of-30 (43.3 percent) in its last two games. Deon Thompson was double-teamed and found a wide-open Larry Drew II for a key late three. Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves also each made important late three-pointers.
Dick Vitale even thinks the Orange could give the Tar Heels trouble so you know things are serious.
The national media has officially pricked it's ears up in the direction of the Orange. A win tonight will certainly catapult them directly into "the discussion." A loss and the Orange still walk away from NYC with a newfound respect...but not quite as much. If SU wants to mark their territory and fulfill their "Nobody Believed In Us" destiny, they'll want to make a statement tonight in front of the partisan crowd.