Three years ago today, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team completed the unthinkable: They came back from 16 points down to beat top-seeded Virginia to make the Final Four. Better yet, SU was a 10-seed, had to apologize for being in the NCAA Tournament at all and was still dealing with the fall out of NCAA sanctions reducing scholarships. It was a revenge tour that we loved, despite the eventual loss to UNC in the National Semifinals down in Houston.
That team gave us so much, from the aforementioned apology letter/tour, to the Malachi Richardson three goggles, Tyler Lydon’s shoeless shot, to beating Gonzaga and “finally” getting that surprise run that other programs seemed to have like once per decade. It also took away a considerable amount from Virginia: the shrug gif, the Perrantes finger sniff, a potential national title, and of course, the benefit of the doubt ever since.
Talking to Streaking the Lawn’s Caroline Darney this morning about the game, the narrative around Virginia as choke artists started with this loss. If UVA doesn’t fall to Syracuse, they’re in the Final Four and maybe win a championship. Even without the trophy, Tony Bennett gets over the hump and everyone stops complaining about the ugly play style. Caroline says the Elite 8 loss hurts more than the UMBC loss in part because the UMBC loss expands upon a narrative Syracuse started. This seemed like an interesting perspective that I don’t doubt. And it actually launched the idea for this piece’s larger conversation:
What’s the preferred way to win/lose in the NCAA Tournament?
Syracuse has had success both ways: We’ve made the Final Four as a top-four seed and as a 10. We’ve scored big wins when we weren’t supposed to, but also suffered catastrophic upsets that derailed great teams.
I know the easy answer is “I just prefer to win, however that happens,” but ignoring that stupid retort that doesn’t actually mean anything,.. I’m interested in which wins feel better and which losses hurt more.
While the 2016 run was fun, would we prefer the 2010 or 2012 teams made it to the Final Four where they could’ve potentially won the Orange a second championship? Are we more bummed about the Ohio State loss in 2012, or the Butler loss in 2010? Or is Vermont (or Richmond, for some of the other fans among us) the more brutal defeat, despite the fact that it was in the first round? Does the Marquette upset in 2011 hurt more than the Dayton one in 2014, given the circumstances that created 2014?
From my perspective, the wins may feel sweeter when they’re unexpected, but you’d still rather your best teams got a shot to win it all. The 2013 and 2016 teams had entertainment factors and great storylines, but were ultimately not as good as the 2010 and 2012 squads that failed to make it to the Final Four.
As for the losses, it’s tough to say whether you’d prefer to be right on the cusp of greatness, or have the opportunity dashed before it even gets that far. While the loss to Ohio State “matters” more than the loss to Butler based on the round each occurred in, I’m more mad at Butler in hindsight, for some reason. And maybe that’s shaped by the fact that the latter was an upset. I hate Vermont even more than Butler, however. And maybe a lot of you do as well.
I’m not saying there’s a surefire right/wrong answer here. Just curious how Syracuse fans look at these things.
And also, since this article started with a lot of positive things from three years ago, here’s the highlight reel from that game, just to end things on the upswing: