Syracuse fans still feel a little like Mouth in The Goonies. We're down at the bottom of that well, rummaging through the coins strewn all over, finding wishes and hopes and dreams that we threw down there at the beginning of the season. This was our dream, our time. Syracuse is supposed to be arriving in Indianapolis today to begin preparing for the Final Four and a run at the National Title.
Alas, the goondocks had other plans for us. Now, we're just spectators watching four other teams live out our dreams while we eat Rocky Road in a dingy basement with a creepy guy in a Hawaiian shirt with an oblong head.
That doesn't mean we're done rooting, however. Even if you don't have a horse left in the race, instinctively you look at the four remaining teams and some part of you is going to want to root for one over the other. Now that we can't, let's try to pinpoint which one is the team we're the most happy with winning it all.
Michigan State: On one hand you gotta respect what Tom Izzo has done there. I know I'm not supposed to go behind Boeheim's back like this but Izzo has to be the best coach in the game right now. Of all the gaudy stats people will throw around over the next couple days, none is more impressive to me than this one.
Every 4-year player in Izzo's program has gone to a Final Four. That streak is now intact through the Class of '13.
How's that for a sales pitch? Come to Michigan State: You Are Guaranteed To Play In a Final Four.
Of course, on the flip side, Syracuse fans still haven't forgiven the Spartans for beating us in the '00 Sweet Sixteen. Well-documented on this site, that game might rival the Butler loss as the last time SU fans were absolutely certain their team was going to the Final Four only to watch it all go up in smoke within minutes.
And then there's the way Mateen Cleeves systematically stalked Gerry McNamara around the globe, from Bakersfield to Greece, stealing his job at every turn.
The Spartans may have our respect but they won't have our cheers this weekend.
West Virginia: This is who we're supposed to root for, right? I mean, I guess as a whole the Big East needs to root for the Mountaineers to win it all to save what's left of the conference's reputation after a dismal NCAA Tournament showing. And I highly doubt there are many SU fans, or fans in general, who will choose Duke over WVU, so by a matter of elimination they at least get our vote in that game.
But I can't root for them to win it all and it's for completely selfish reasons. This is our sport. Not theirs. They get football. These are the rules. Like the way pigeons get out of our way in NYC when you walk past them, West Virginia and Syracuse have an understanding. You guys are better than us in football and we're better than you in basketball.
The balance has been shifted, however briefly. And the thought of those couch-burners holding a national championship trophy over our heads all summer might be too much to bear. Especially since we beat them.
I will pull for them begrudgingly in the Final Four. As for the title game...it depends on who they play.
Butler: The reason not to root for Butler? If they win it all, we're going to have to re-live highlights from that game forever. They won't haunt us as much as the Vermont footage because at least Butler is a good team who was worthy of losing to, but it still won't be pretty.
That said, I think you have to pull for them over everyone else. I don't think they're the Cinderella that everyone wants them to so desperately wants them to be. Bud Poliquin says "this is "Hoosiers" meets "Rudy" meets "Rocky" but I disagree completely. The Bulldogs are 31-4. They're a five-seed. They've been ranked in the top twenty almost the entire season. They've won 24 games in a row. This isn't a Cinderella, this is top-tier program that happens to play in a mid-major conference.
If 16-seed Vermont had beaten Syracuse in the first-round and made a run to the Final Four, it would be Hoosiers meets Rudy meets Rocky. Butler has no less of a right to be in the Final Four than Michigan State, a fellow five-seed.
Of course, that won't stop everyone from waxing poetic about them. And they're still a great story even if they're not exactly what folks wish they were. At the end of the day, if Butler wins the NCAA Tournament, that's a much better story than Duke or Michigan State or even West Virginia. It could be a game-changer, the kind that we all assumed Gonzaga would have done by now.
For proponents of a college sports playoff system, it's a win that validates the idea that anyone can rise above the class system. For whiners who would rather watch Kentucky play Kansas, I guess you'll always have the BCS. But Kentucky and Kansas (and Syracuse) aren't walking through that door. Cause they lost when it mattered most. Butler won. Credit where credit is due.