|A banner year for the Orange|
For a blog devoted to Syracuse Athletics, 2012-2013 was one of those years where you look back at it with a big smile on your face. Here at Orange::44, we focus mainly on football, men's basketball, and men's lacrosse -- the "Big 3" -- the money-makers for the Department. Over the life of this blog, each of those sports teams has had some dark days: the Greg Robinson Era, the NIT years, and lacrosse not making the tournament. So for a year like this to come along, where each of those sports saw great success, well, it makes being a fan a pleasure.
The 2012 football season seems so long ago now, doesn't it? We're nearly nine months removed from the start of the season, and five months removed from the bowl game; and the 2013 season begins in three months. When it all started, did anyone realistically think the team would win the Big East? Have a winning season? Make it to a bowl game? Be Doug Marrone's final season? It was a surprisingly successful football season. The team had marquee wins over Pittsburgh, UConn, Louisville, Missouri, and South Florida. Ryan Nassib became one of the most successful quarterbacks in Syracuse history. After finishing with a respectable 7-5 regular season record and a share of the Big East title, Syracuse was invited to the Pinstripe Bowl to face West Virginia, a school who had just completed its first season in the Big 12 after competing for several years alongside Syracuse in the Big East. The annual battle for the Schwartzwalder Trophy had ended, but the Orange once again found itself lined up against the Mountaineers. Syracuse dominated at Yankee Stadium and brought the George Steinbrenner trophy back to Central New York once again.
Offensive lineman Justin Pugh gave up his final year of eligibility, entered the NFL draft, and was selected in the first round by the New York Giants. Joining him in the Meadowlands is Ryan Nassib, who was drafted much later than expected by the pre-draft hype. Shamarko Thomas also heard his name called on draft weekend.
Losing all that talent, what was Doug Marrone to do for next year? Sadly for the Orange, the answer was "Become the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills." That news broke just a week after the Pinstripe Bowl victory. Reaction among Orange faithful was mixed; while most were happy for him being able to reach the pinnacle of one's coaching career and realize a life-long dream, fans were left feeling betrayed as Marrone took most of his Orange coaching staff down the thruway to Buffalo. Thankfully, he left Scott Shaffer behind, who Athletics Director Dr. Daryl Gross named the new Head Coach. So far he's said and done all the right things, and has done his best to put together a good recruiting class and maintain continuity within the program for the existing players, as the team heads into its first season in the ACC. I think it's fair to say we're all cautiously optimistic for this coming season and for years to come.
Oh Jim Boeheim, you old curmudgeon, you. But you're our curmudgeon, and we love you. As you may recall, the season started with a stabbing at Midnight Madness. The first game was on the deck of an aircraft carrier in San Diego. Jim Boeheim reached win #900, and shortly thereafter passed Bob Knight for second on the all-time wins list. There were a couple bumps in the road as the season trudged on, but this team was looking really good going into the first part of February. Hell, they had even traveled to Louisville, the number one team at the time, and beat them! But shortly into February, things started going badly. And then the ball wouldn't go in the hoop. We all remember that horrible February stretch. Georgetown visited the Carrier Dome in late February for one last Dome tilt as Big East foes, and beat the Orange in front of the largest Carrier Dome crowd in history. A week later, Louisville came in and avenged the earlier loss. The following week, Syracuse closed out the regular season by traveling to Georgetown, played one of the worst games in recent history, and got beat by the Hoyas. At that point, most people were writing off this Orange squad for a quick Big East Tournament exit and likely an embarrassing first round NCAA exit to an inferior team.
But our favorite curmudgeon still liked his team. He got them ready to compete in New York for the Orange's final Big East Tournament. A win over Seton Hall, and then over Pittsburgh, set up one last chance to play Georgetown as Big East members. The only way fate could have done that better is to set that up as the Big East title game. But we settled for the semifinals. And as fate would have it, these longtime rivals couldn't settle the score in a regulation 40-minute game. It took an overtime period, but finally Syracuse was victorious over the Hoyas. Already exceeding most people's expectations, the championship for Syracuse would go through Louisville. Sadly, a monster first-half Orange lead quickly flipped to a Cardinals blowout, and Syracuse went home runner-up.
Confidence was returned to the vocabulary of Orange fans heading into the NCAA Tournament. Games against Montana and California in the Oakland pod earned Syracuse a spot in the Sweet 16, playing in the much easier to travel to Washington DC. But there, #1-seed Indiana loomed. Arguably the most prolific offense of the tournament, the Hoosiers were held by the Orange 2-3 zone defense, as Syracuse advanced to the Regional Final against familiar foe Marquette. The same Syracuse shut-down defense did its thing against the Golden Eagles, and somehow, after that crazy ride, Syracuse found itself with its ticket punched to the Final Four in Atlanta. Unfortunately the Michigan Wolverines were too much for the Orange, but you can't not all that a successful season!
It used to be that Syracuse was one of a few elite national lacrosse programs: the best recruits, season by season success, guaranteed Final Four berths, and 11 National Championships. But the sport of lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and many more programs are competing at the elite level. Thus, the best recruits are more spread out, random teams may dominate from year to year, and Syracuse hadn't been to a Final Four since 2009. Coming off last year's disappointing season and first-round exit, there were a lot of questions surrounding the 2013 men's lacrosse team. Panic set in when the season opener was lost to Albany after two overtimes. Luckily, the Orange quickly righted the ship, with impressive wins over traditionally elite programs such as Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Cornell. Of course, of that group, only Cornell earned a Tournament bid. The season had a couple low points, namely the loss at Villanova, and the loss at home against Hobart. The team finished out the season strong, however, with a hard-fought win over Notre Dame in the Big City Classic, and then a mere five days later, another win over Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. By defeating Villanova in the Big East Championship, the Orange earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and along with that, impressed the selection committee enough to earn a #1-seed.
In the Tournament, the Orange kept drama high. Whether it was overcoming early deficits, or giving up a big lead only to find a way to win in the waning minute(s) of the game, Syracuse made its way to the Final Four in Philadelphia. A tight win over Denver in the Final Four brought Syracuse to the title game against Duke. While it looked like Syracuse would dominate early, Duke woke up at the same time Syracuse fell asleep, and cruised to an easy 16-10 victory. It wouldn't be a 12th title for Syracuse, but the seniors finally got to taste a Final Four (and probably some cheese steaks).
For these "Big 3" combined, we saw two Big East titles, one bowl victory, and two Final Fours. Aside from the "Big 3," the women's basketball team had arguably its best season in school history and made an NCAA appearance. The women's lacrosse team carried over last season's success, and repeated a trip to the Final Four as well. Other team and individual sports at Syracuse also enjoyed some of their best seasons in recent memory. Suffice to say, the Syracuse University Athletics Department is sitting pretty right now. That's a great position to be in heading into the ACC in one month. The sports have done their part to invigorate the fan base; now it's up to us, the fans, to step up and support these student athletes as best as we can!
And with that, it's hiatus time. Don't expect much in the way of updates on this site until August comes around and we start preparing for football. That Penn State game is, what, 92 days away? We'll of course be here if anything big happens in the meantime, including legal analysis if necessary. Overall this season we haven't had to do much in the way of lawdog posts, but if the situation arises, you know who to turn to. We sure hope to not have to do that! So hopefully, until August, have a great summer!