I usually don't get very personal in my posts but I have to change pace this time. I went back to my alma mater this past weekend to be one of 34,616 to root for the Orange in the Carrier Dome on Saturday night and it was amazing.
First thing we did after checking into our hotel was head over to Marshall Street and grab a malt and pizza at Cosmo's. That's right - Cosmo's, not Varsity pizza. We then drove around the campus and began to see coeds already dawned in Orange apparel and of course already drinking. What else do you do when there's piles of snow outside your window? Well, I guess you could build two large humps and drink on top of them...
Then it was back to the hotel to find out Kentucky fell to Tennessee. Shortly after that we saw Kansas lose to Oklahoma State. We sensed a theme. No, not top-ranked teams losing but blue teams losing to orange teams. That was the theme we hoped would continue on this night. This was the game fans have been looking forward to for months and now its significance was even greater. This was Syracuse's chance to become the top-ranked team in the nation in the regular season since 1990.
We arrived at the Dome about an hour before the game - mainly to make sure we'd get our orange towels they had on each seat. The Dome began to fill up as fans piled into the upper deck in some of the worst seats for a basketball game ever. Sure, we were in row Y but at least we were on the basketball side of the Dome. Some fans were over a hundred yards away on the opposite end. As bad as our seats were, it made me realize they could definitely put the court in the center of the Dome and smash this attendance record sometime in the near future. But it would require a game of this similar magnitude and that's impossible to predict.
Many former Orangemen were in attendance including Derrick Coleman, Pearl Washington, Billy Owens, Lawrence Moten and John Wallace. There was talk Paul Harris would be in attendance but there was no mention of him in anything I've read. I wonder how he's feeling about the decision to leave? I also wonder what kind of reception he would get from the Cuse crowd.
The crowd was unbelievable all game long. I've never seen that much Orange in my life. Most everyone complied with the Orange-out and there were very few Villanova fans. The crowd stood for the entire game and although I've never gone to a huge college football game (I went to Syracuse, remember?) it's difficult to imagine this not rivaling that of Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium or Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Alright, so it's probably not quite on the same level but it's reported that the decibel level in the Dome reached as high as 115 and that actually does stand up against some of the top football stadiums in the country.
It was pretty easy for the crowd to stay involved since Villanova never led by more than eight and Syracuse took the lead for good with 4:36 left in the first half.
Althought Syracuse didn't start the giant head trend their fans have fully embraced it and have taken it to new levels. Giant heads in attendance included: Just about every current Syracuse player (even two Wesley Johnson's and Andy Rautins - one of which named "VelociRautins had his head on a velociraptors' body), former players Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman, assistant coaches Bernie Fine and Mike Hopkins, Tiger Woods, Erin Andrews, and oddly enough Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Down. The student section had a few more I couldn't decipher from that high up in the Dome. Another sign of how this trend has been embraced is at the Kinko's near campus, they have a sign in the window that reads "We Print Giant Heads." On top of all the giant heads was the return of the Dome Ranger after over a decade off and an Orange Man (like It's Always Sunny's green man) with blue letters that read "Shut It" and an arrow pointed down aka "Shut It Down."
With about five minutes remaining in the game the crowd began cheering "We're number one!" Unfortunately, I couldn't get my favorite cheer going. Also, thankfully there was no rushing of the court. Cuse fans are notorious for rushing the court at inappropriate times. I'm pretty sure I did see one kid do it though. He quickly ran on, patted some players on the backs and then disappeared into the stands on the opposite side.
I wasn't able to go to the Final Four when they won it in 2003. I wasn't even able to go to the Dome to watch the Championship game because I had a paper due to the next day (who does that??). But at least I was there for this one. And I know this game didn't really mean all that much. Syracuse still could've won the Big East without it and wrapped up a number one seed but it was still pretty momentous. It all but locks up their first number one seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and gave them their first number one ranking in nearly 20 years.
Game Analysis and More
Syracuse dominated every aspect of the game. It was a complete team effort with six players in double figures. They were a little sloppy in the first half and committed nine turnovers but had just one in the second half.
Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku were unstoppable in the post. The two combined to go 16 for 25 for 36 points. That's what will happen when all your shots are within three feet of the basket and many of them coming on dunks and layups.
Speaking of Onuaku, he's doing much better from the free throw line. Since January 10, he has hit 15 of 30 from the line including 3 of 5 against the Wildcats. Congratulations, Andris Biedrens. You are now clearly the worst free throw shooter in the world.
The big men were able to get such great looks because of Nova's focus on Andy Rautins. I've been hard on Rautins in the past - and will be again. He had a couple Rautins-like passes where he tried to thread the needle and it cost him. But Nova's focus on him really opened up the inside and he found the big men. Rautins was just 3 for 9 but had 8 assists and 3 steals.
Wesley Johnson stuggled again but this time he didn't just disappear. This is what Syracuse fans have been looking for. Johnson's shots aren't always going to be falling but he needs to figure out a way to stay aggressive and he did that against the Wildcats. Johnson was just 2 of 12 but still managed 14 points because he got to the line and knocked down 8 of 10 free throws.He's too athletic and too good to disappear.
Syracuse even did well when they slowed down the pace. This is often how the Orange have squandered leads this year. They go up big and then try and milk the clock. It takes them out of their normal offensive rhythm and their big lead turns into a nail-biter. But they began to take their time about midway through the second half and were still very productive.
The 27th win sets a record for wins in the regular season which was previously held by that 1990-91 team that was the last squad to be ranked number one.
And to end this post where Syracuse is now the number one team in the nation and have already locked up at least a share of the Big East title, I'll leave you with this: Remember when THIS team lost to Le Moyne??