Not because we’re Hoos sympathizers around here (far from it, actually). But because our own Syracuse Orange have seen this story play out twice in the last decade. Once due to injury, and once due to... academic issues, I guess.
In 2010, with a one-seed pretty much locked up, we took the floor against Georgetown in the Big East Tournament. The Orange lost the game, as was typical of the double-bye back then. However, more than that, they’d end up losing Arinze Onuaku for the remainder of the season.
The senior had teamed with Rick Jackson that season to stonewall opponents in the paint. At 28-4, Syracuse had looked like a contender for the No. 1 overall seed (or something close), and a real shot at the national title. They wound up as the fourth No. 1, and in what appeared to be a very difficult bracket. That was even more true without Onuaku, who helped keep the inside clear and forced opponents into poor shots on the perimeter.
Syracuse would lost to Butler in the Sweet 16.
Just a couple years later, Syracuse was again a No. 1 seed, ranked second overall this time. After the brackets were announced, we heard that Feb Melo wouldn’t play in the postseason. The Orange got all the way to the Elite Eight without him but fell to Ohio State and big man Jared Sullinger. It’s possible that SU would’ve been able to best the Buckeyes with Melo manning the middle in that game (they’d only lose by seven without him).
Syracuse fans still talk about both instances as a case of “what if.” No. 1 seeds don’t come along very often for schools other than Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky (and sure, UCLA). When you have one, it’s best to take advantage. So is the case now for UVA. And they likely have the same feelings we did in both 2010 and 2012.
Is “robbed” the right word? Maybe not. Poor luck is probably most apt, given the crapshoot nature of the NCAA Tournament as it is. Like Syracuse in both of those previous seasons, the Hoos lose a critical member of the team. Hunter was the ACC’s sixth man of the year, and the team’s fourth-leading scorer. You’re not necessarily just replacing someone like that.
UVA can still win the national championship this year, as they’ll tell you themselves. We did the same in both 2010 and 2012, rightfully or not (ended up not). This isn’t a guaranteed loss for Virginia, though in a region with Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona and Kentucky, it certainly won’t help matters.
As much as we’re sort of rivals with UVA, we can also understand how fleeting these moments can be for non-bluebloods, and how much it pains fans to feel like the opportunity has been taken right out from under them. I won’t say I’m “sad” for Virginia fans as a group -- rather just the ones that I know personally. And as Syracuse fans, we can empathize with what this feels like.
... But if UVA ends up winning the whole thing anyway, just forget I ever mentioned anything above.