Sometimes writers tend to just vote for the team who brought in the most talent and who have lost the least. So it wasn’t surprising to the Orange Nation when the writers picked their beloved Orange to finish sixth in the Big East regular season, or the fact that the Orange began the season unranked. After all, they were just writers with opinions, people who had no say in how the games would play out. It was even less surprising when the Orange throttled the eight-ranked Wildcats, 95-77, with their superstar Scottie Reynolds inside the Carrier Dome Saturday night in front of a record 34,616 Orange diehards. The Orange scored 95 points against one of the nation’s best defensive squads, but it wasn’t just a one-man team like those cats from Kentucky. This Orange team had six players in double figures, and adding 21 assists to go along with their 32 field goals.
The game was the most hyped of the season in college basketball, but it was only the Orange who lived up to the hype. In the final 63 possessions of the game the Orange turned the ball over just twice, making up for their "dismal" 43 percent shooting night. The shots may not have fallen, but the Orange beat the Wildcats to the glass, grabbing 22 offensive rebounds leading to second chance points. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone held Reynolds and the Wildcats in check, holding them to 8-of-28 shooting from the perimeter. The throttling of the Wildcats ending a three-game skid against Villanova. With the win, Syracuse improved to 5-0 against top 10 teams and 7-0 against ranked opponents.
After the nation’s top three teams (Kansas, Kentucky and Purdue) all lost over the weekend, it should have left little doubt in the minds of voters that the Orange were the nation’s best team. Talks swirled, analysts debated and they were still preaching Kansas this or Kentucky that. The rankings came out on Monday and finally someone with a basketball sense voted for those Orange and for the first time since 1990 they were going to play a game as the country’s best team.
Being number one can get to a team’s head. Sometimes they only last a week. The St. Johns Red Storm looked to leave the Carrier Dome leaving the Orange feeling blue. Like all great teams, however, the Orange came out firing on all cylinders, shooting 52 percent from the field as they disposed of the Red Storm. It was Senior Night and the Orange following said goodbye to two fifth-year seniors, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. The seniors combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
One game remains in the regular season as the Orange prepare to head to Louisville on Saturday, March 6, at 2 p.m. The Cardinals have beaten Syracuse five consecutive times, including early this season, 66-60, in Syracuse. Since Louisville joined the Big East at the start of the 2005 season, the Cardinals are 5-1 against the Orange. It is the last game inside famed Freedom Hall as the Cardinals will begin next season in a downtown arena.
It was 30 years ago when John Thompson Sr. led his Georgetown Hoyas to face the Orange in Syracuse for Manley Field House’s final game. After the Hoyas beat then Syracuse Orangemen, 52-20, Thompson in a postgame interview said, "Manley Field House is officially closed!" It began the Big East’s biggest basketball rivalry. Who knows, if the Orange can escape Freedom Hall, maybe it will be Jim Boeheim who will declare Freedom Hall closed and start a new rivalry.