The Syracuse basketball team made the Final Four last year. It feels nice to say. And looking back now (versus immediately afterward), the 2012-13 season has a warm glow attached to it that puts that team in some elite company in Orange/Orangemen history. The 1995-96, 1986-87 and 1974-75 squads also made the Final Four, while of course, the 2002-03 team went and won the whole thing. This we know. But as you'll also note from looking at those years, Syracuse has never been to two Final Fours in the same decade -- never mind two years in a row.
Could all of that change this season?
Playing in two (or more) consecutive Final Fours isn't exactly rare, but it just hasn't happened for SU. Some recent occurrences:
Louisville: Semi-final loss (2012), National Champions (2013)
Kentucky: Semi-final loss (2011), National Champions (2012)
Butler: National runner-up (2010), National runner-up (2011)
Michigan State: National runner-up (2009), Semi-final loss (2010)
North Carolina: Semi-final loss (2008), National Champions (2009)
UCLA: National runner-up (2006), Semi-final loss (2007), Semi-final loss (2008)
Florida: National Champions (2006), National Champions (2007)
As you'll noticed right away, not only is this less-than-rare, it's actually quite common over the last seven years. Seven different teams have made it to two or more Final Fours in a row since 2006. Of those, all of them played in at least one National Championship Game, and over half of them won it all during those two years (with Florida doing so twice). There's also been a carry-over school from the previous Final Four in every season since 2006, meaning that the odds of it happening once again are pretty good for 2014. A reminder on who made the Final Four in 2013:
Louisville, Michigan, Wichita State... oh, and SYRACUSE.
Of those four, all are ranked in the preseason, with three ('Ville, UM and SU) in the top 10. So it stands to reason one of those teams could find themselves back in the Final Four. While each have their merits, we're just making the case for Syracuse here.
- At least one team associated with the Big East as we once knew it has made the Final Four each season since 2009. This bodes well for the Orange and Louisville, who are both former members of the conference, but large parts of what made it so dominant over that stretch of time.
- Of the "plucky underdogs" that have made the Final Four lately, just Butler has managed to get back the following year. Both VCU (2011) and George Mason (2006) failed to return after their Cinderella runs, and the Bulldogs were the first non-Big Six conference team to go to consecutive Final Fours since UNLV did it in 1990 and 1991. Doesn't mean Wichita State can't do it. But doesn't help their case.
- Jim Boeheim has coached in a National Championship Game for the three straight decades, though hasn't in this one (yet).
- Duke and North Carolina are the only ACC teams to make the Final Four in the last nine years... one would assume this streak is due to end soon.
- Technically, Michigan's never been to two consecutive Final Fours either (both trips from the 90s have been scrubbed from the record books), putting them on an even playing field with SU
... and I'm sure there are plenty more circumstantial pieces of information that you could completely misconstrue in Syracuse's favor just like I did above. The point is that there is no sure-fire way to figure out whether Syracuse is going to the Final Four again or not. Not any of the loose facts above. Or a high preseason ranking. Or a strong regular season, X amount of returning starters, a Hall of Fame coach (which we do have) or even a favorable group of teams in our bracket.
Like most seasons, the Orange have a *chance* to go the Final Four, and that's all we as fans can ask for. As we learned last year, it's equal parts talent and luck, along with about a million external factors. SU captured lightning in a bottle back in March and April. Can they do it again? We can sure hope so.