The Virginia Cavaliers beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders in overtime on Monday night to claim the national championship. That’s notable for any team, but this particular one is probably more relieved than just about any other before it.
I’m not going to draw out this long narrative of redemption for Virginia, as everyone else has already done plenty of that. Yes, they’re the first 1-seed to lose to a 16. Yes, they also managed to turn things around and win a title the following year. It’s impressive enough to win a championship at all. Doing so with that specter hanging over you is even more so.
That last part is more of my point, and it’s one that started to populate the conversations below this recent discussion around where Syracuse Orange fans would rather lose in the NCAA Tournament. Tough losses will always be tough. But some are made better — and redeemed, to some extent — by success in the aftermath. For Tony Bennett and the Hoos, it came just over a year later, which you’ll likely hear about in the 30 for 30 that drops by the fall.
For others, however, that disappointment can linger for quite a while. At times, it’s never erased at all. SU’s familiar with this, to some extent.
Just look at Jim Boeheim’s track record, and the narrative of how Orange fans became what they are (cynical, largely waiting for the other shoe to drop at all times) is readily apparent.
The 1987 loss to Indiana was brutal, but the 1989 team could’ve supplied some rather immediate redemption... until it couldn’t, because they lost to Illinois in the Elite 8. Just two years later, the Richmond loss added insult to injury.
Redemption didn’t truly arrive until the surprise 1996 run nearly a decade later. That didn’t end in a title, but the unexpected appearance in the national championship game at least helped fight off some of the ghosts for another seven years until Syracuse won it all in 2003. Doing so in the same city that birthed 1987’s painful memories was sort of the icing on the cake.
But despite the validation of that championship, the pain of 1987 was never truly erased. The redemption was so far removed from the original issue that they’re two separate instances that work together to define Orange fans, the program and its coach.
Vermont, similarly, went un-avenged because the 2006 team was unable to parlay a miracle Big East Tournament run into something more and the next two SU squads missed the NCAAs completely.
The 2010 team’s loss to Butler could’ve been erased in 2012... if not for the loss to Ohio State. Syracuse making it to the Final Four in 2013 instead with a less talented team helps lessen the blow on 2012, perhaps. But 2010 stays there as a nagging reminder. Had SU pulled off another championship in ‘13, you probably forget all about Butler too.
While 2014 started with a 25-0 run, it ended with a thud made worse by the off-the-court issues that would later start circling the program. However, the shocking 2016 Final Four run makes you forget all about Dayton, in part because we also beat the Flyers during the 2016 tournament to lean directly into the redemption narrative.
This isn’t an exercise in creating a laundry list of Syracuse basketball’s failures. Instead, it’s taking a Syracuse lens to two separate experiences that play a large part in the Virginia basketball experience going forward.
Bennett and his team eliminated the #NARRATIVE in record time, and as a result, are largely redeemed. Granted, that redemption may not extend to these walls, where we’ll still happily post Malachi Richardson three goggle images just the same. But for Hoos fans, you probably take the trade-off of being associated with the first 16-over-1 upset if it also means a championship the next year. Think we probably would too, as would most programs.