It's been quite a week for Syracuse Orange fans. We watched both our basketball teams work their way into the Sweet Sixteen and have spent the days since hearing about how the men's squad doesn't belong there. Furthermore, they're unlikable and their upcoming game vs. Gonzaga is a glorified NIT game.
Safe to say the Syracuse fan hackles are up. How else do you explain this "apology" becoming the most-read article in TNIAAM history after two days? We figured, well, if you're gonna hate, bring the hate. Like Michael Gbinije said after the Middle Tennessee win, "Thanks for the motivation."
In the comments of my Embrace The Hate piece, I saw one from Kurupt that I thought deserved notice:
First of all, get that to 44 recs.
Second of all, since no one else is going to accept that challenge, I shall do my very best to provide the world with five legitimate reasons why Syracuse is a team worth rooting for.
5. The Walking Sanctioned
Nowhere in the many pages of the NCAA report condemning Syracuse basketball that led to scholarship reductions, vacated wins and a self-imposed postseason ban last year were you able to find the names of Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, Dajuan Coleman, or Kaleb Joseph. But those were the specific players who have had to pay the price for whatever transgressions came before them. Because a guy took some cash from an idiot in 2007, the guys who play in 2015 had to suffer.
Now granted, last year's team was NIT-bound for sure. But the effects of the NCAA sanctions linger. Thomas Bryant might have very well suited up for the Orange this year had a scholarship been available, changing the whole dynamic. The team played without its coach for a month in the middle of the season. They've been under a microscope for the last two years beyond what's to be expected.
All they've done through it all is push and fight and claw their way into the NCAA Tournament without complaint.
If you don't like Boeheim, I get that. I'm not gonna defend him and he's a fair object of your ire. But the players aren't. Boeheim says he "suffered" during his suspension but he did so in his million-dollar home with his multi-million-dollar salary. Meanwhile, the players just kept playing and doing the best they could under the circumstances while going to school and living amatuer athlete lives.
You want Syracuse punished? Syracuse has been punished. You want further punishment? Fine, take it up with Boeheim and the university. But these guys don't deserve your scorn, they've done nothing to earn it. All they've done is play basketball like they're supposed to.
How is that worth rooting against?
4. Michael Gbinije
Usually when you think of a specific college basketball team, you think of one guy who defines it. When you think of Duke right now, you probably think of Grayson Allen and that tells you everything you need to know. When you think of Oklahoma you think of Buddy Hield and you've got a sense of their personality.
When you think of Syracuse, I'd say you probably think of Gbinije. At least, you should. He's the unquestioned leader on the floor and as a graduate student he's also the elder statesman.
"Syracuse," whatever that means to you, can be unlikable. I can see that. Boeheim is certainly unlikable.
Michael Gbinije is not unlikable. Michael Gibinje is downright fantastic.
On the court, he's the MVP of the squad. In his third season playing for the Orange he averaged 17.8 PPG and scored in double-figures in every single game this year. He put in 37.9 minutes per game, one of the top numbers in the nation. He was named Second Team All-ACC as well as the All-ACC Defensive Team.
By all accounts, he's also a model citizen. Already in grad school, he's been a member of the All-ACC Academic Team and you won't find his name next to any kind of nefarious news. There are no salacious tweets. Hell, the guy doesn't even go on Twitter.
Gbinije is the kind of guy we're supposed to root for in college basketball. He stayed in school for his entire eligibility run. He found a fresh start with a new school after transferring from Duke and thrived. He's evolved from role player to a leader of men. And he welcomes the next challenge in spite of all the curveballs thrown his way.
"For me, it means a lot," Gbinije said. "Just going through the whole position change and then the self-ban and sitting out when we did go to the Final Four. So I've been through a little bit. But I'm just happy with the guys we have on the team. We've got a lot of competitors, a fun bunch to be around and I'm just trying to play basketball for as long as possible in college."
3. Trevor Cooney
Trevor Cooney is a type, for sure. He's the white guy who seems to have been at Syracuse for a decade who almost exclusively shoots threes. There's a storied tradition of guys who fit this mold: Jason Cipolla, Andy Rautins, Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf.
Cooney's legacy, however, is that no matter how much he practices and how much he tries, he just hasn't been able to hit the clutch shot when Syracuse needs it most. He missed against Michigan in the Final Four. He missed against Pittsburgh a couple weeks back. He's slumped late in the last three seasons. He's a tragic figure and a lot of that has to do with just how much work he puts into his craft.
He's the guy shooting in the gym long after practice is over. He's the guy working on his game for hours a day during the off-season. He's the guy whose life is so much about basketball that his family has driven around the planet (in a manner of speaking) to watch him.
When Syracuse lost to Pitt, we thought Cooney had literally missed his final shot at remaking his legacy. Because that's all it takes. One clutch three. One buzzer-beater. One huge shot. Just like that, Trevor will have that moment that fans can hang their hat on and say, "Remember Trevor Cooney's big shot?"
Very few people give themselves over to Syracuse basketball the way Trevor Cooney has. He's spent five years here and worked his ass off the entire time. All the while he's become a great ambassador in the community and a favorite of young Orange fans looking for an autograph or picture. There are no black marks on his record and about the worst thing you can say is that he gets overly-excited during games sometimes. How terrible.
Deserve is a strong word in sports. Very few people "deserve" anything. You usually just hope they get what they've earned. We should all hope Cooney gets what he's earned.
2. Because Deserve's Got Nothing To Do With It
A lot of people seem to be hung up on two thing...
1. "I don't like Jim Boeheim so I don't want Syracuse to win."
2. "Syracuse doesn't deserve to be here or the road they've taken to get here so I don't want Syracuse to win."
Like I've said, I get the first one. Fair enough, really. The second one, however, I mean let's just step back for a second.
As Donald Rumsfeld might say, "You go to the Sweet Sixteen with the teams who won, not the teams you might have wanted or wish had won instead." Michigan State certainly would have been the "better" team in this slot but you can't hold Syracuse accountable for Michigan State losing to an inferior opponent. Syracuse did not ask for Middle Tennessee instead of Michigan State. It literally had no say in the matter. So while it's easy to dock Syracuse for it's "lucky" road to the Sweet Sixteen, that's actually Michigan State's fault, not Syracuse's.
Whether SU deserved to be in the tournament or not, they got in. And once there, they won their first game, which is no small feat these days. Then they won their second game, which is a big deal for anyone regardless of opponent. Now, a team that just barely got into the NCAAs has gone further than expected and well past the point when you might think they "deserve" to be.
But the NCAA Tournament doesn't work on deserve. It works on accomplishments. Some of the best teams to ever play college basketball didn't make it this far, and that's not the 2016 Syracuse Orange basketball team's fault either.
You can't dislike Syracuse because they're the only ones who decided to show up. Dislike the teams that didn't have it in them to be here instead.
1. Mo' Money
If I can't get you to root for Syracuse because of the way it's players have battled through off-court issues out of their control, or root for some of the players who have done so much and never caused a fuss, or because they've simply played good basketball when others haven't, then perhaps I can appeal to your bottom line.
You'll need to be an ACC fan for this to work but basically, the further Syracuse goes, the more money you make. The further ALL ACC schools go the more money you make, so it's in your best interest to root for all of them to keep winning until they're nothing left but to knock each other off.
Each time a school wins an NCAA game, they earn $265K for the conference. So far, the ACC has banked about $3 million and has the potential to go way past that. An All-ACC Final Four could be a financial windfall on multiple levels.
So at the very least, ACC fan, root for the Orange to beat Gonzaga on Friday. Then, since you're also rooting for Virginia to win, you'll find yourself in a can't-lose proposition. Unless you're a Virginia fan, I suppose.