ABC News On Campus reporter Matt Gelb blogs:
Jim Boeheim says he isn’t worried. For a team that hasn’t participated in March Madness for two years, it doesn’t matter how many minutes Syracuse played last week.
The Orange will be ready to play, the Hall of Fame head coach said.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Boeheim said Sunday after learning his SU team will face Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA tournament first round. “I think we’d be fine by Thursday but Friday is good, too.”
After playing nearly five games (195 minutes) in four days last week during the Big East tournament — including the oft-replayed six-overtime classic against Connecticut — Syracuse will take the extra day of rest.
“We were hoping to get the Friday game so we could have a little more time,” junior center Arinze Onuaku said, “so we could be coming back to playing regular Syracuse basketball with fresh legs.”
Syracuse took UConn to six overtimes March 12, before winning 127-117. It was the second-longest game in Division-I basketball history and ended at 1:22 a.m. Eight players fouled out, and Syracuse had to use walk-on Justin Thomas in the fifth and sixth overtimes. Six players had double-doubles. And Orange guard Jonny Flynn played 67 of the game’s 70 minutes.
The next day, Syracuse needed only one overtime to take down West Virginia, before falling to Louisville in the Big East championship Saturday night. Syracuse held an eight-point lead at halftime, but simply ran out of steam against the top-ranked Cardinals.
For the run through the conference tournament, Syracuse was rewarded with a three seed in the NCAAs.
Boeheim called the team’s first half against Louisville “the best half we played all year,” leading him to believe the effects of the busy week will be limited.
That said, the last two times Syracuse reached the Big East championship game, it was upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2004, 13-seeded Vermont knocked off No. 4 Syracuse, and in 2006, the Orange lost to Texas A&M as a fifth seed.
“You just never know what’s going to happen when you get into this next tournament,” Boeheim said. “We’ll be rested by Friday, and this is the best we’ve played. We started out playing pretty well this year, but I really believe this is by far the best we’ve played during the end of this year.”
Spending the last two seasons in the NIT is motivation enough, Flynn said, for being more than ready to play Friday. The Orange hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2004.
“I can’t wait,” Flynn said. “Just playing in the summer with guys who had played in the NCAA tournament and not being able to relate to what they were saying, now I get to be a part of those stories.”