NCAA tournament 2013: Syracuse plays a Big East game to take out a Big Ten power

The Washington Post’s LaVar Arrington, Mike Wise, Liz Clarke, and Jonathan Forsythe discuss Florida Gulf Coast University’s historic weekend and predict which tournament underdogs will make it to the next round of the NCAA Tournament. (Post Sports Live)
Mike Wise
Columnist March 28, 2013

Former NBA star Derrick Coleman was in the house — D.C. in D.C., if you will — to support his Syracuse Orange, the Big East and, in general, in-your-grill basketball.

“Gotta say, it’s kind of weird that a couple of teams from the Big East are representing on Georgetown’s court,” Coleman said.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Weirder still was that those teams, Marquette and Syracuse, will play for the right to go to the Final Four at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

NCAA rules forbid Georgetown from playing a tournament game on its home court, of course. But a week after the all-business Brooks Brothers Hoyas were run off the floor by a joyful Toys-R-Us Florida Gulf Coast team, a mix of pride and regret was palpable throughout Verizon Center.

Pride because the conference still had three teams alive. Regret that one of them wasn’t Georgetown.

As Jim Boeheim’s team obliterated the East Region’s top seed, Indiana, in the late game Thursday night — after Marquette made Miami miss badly and often in the round-of-16 opener — remnants of the Hilltop were all over Verizon.

John Thompson Jr. sat center court, broadcasting both games for radio. The Georgetown sports information staff was in charge of the region’s game operations. Hoyas season-ticket holders were all over the building, some still lamenting their team’s own agonizing rite of spring the past five of six years: losing on the tournament’s opening weekend.

Insult to injury: Syracuse had five fewer points through the first half against Indiana than its total in the final Big East regular season game against the Hoyas here, oh, less than three weeks ago when Syracuse was blown out by 22.

Georgetown went 3-2 against both teams, blowing out Marquette in Washington, losing by a free throw in Wisconsin and taking Syracuse to overtime in the Big East tournament in their one loss against the Orangemen.

Agonizing truth for the still-grieving Hoya Self-Destroya: In the last year of the Big East, before most every greedy Division I university president played a financially desperate game of musical chairs, Georgetown’s rivals in time are 40 minutes away from cutting down the same nets Otto Porter and his teammates’ singed the past three months.

And if there is a bigger lesson to be learned – for Indiana and Miami, as well as Georgetown – it’s this: Orneriness and grit will knock out a pretty patterned offensive team any day of the week in the tournament.

Nastiness advances; nice-looking teams accustomed to making shots and running their sets watch the “One Shining Moment” montage from home.

There was a moment with a little less than six minutes left when Syracuse guard Brandon Triche drove to the rim. Now, Indiana was down 14, their season in the balance. And no one came to help. Not one single Indiana player rotated over before Triche scored an uncontested layup.

Meantime, Syracuse was throwing bodies at Indiana’s Cody Zeller all night. Every time the soon-to-be-lottery-pick center pounded a power dribble in the paint, three bodies of 6-foot-7 or more collapsed on him, mauled him, got away with anything they could that didn’t require hospitalization.

That’s old-school Big East basketball. That’s how you get to the Elite Eight.

Zeller is a homegrown hoss of a player. Victor Oladipo, a levitating Washington area transplant, is an acrobat above the rim. But Syracuse hardly let him get there.

Whether this was a bit of vindication for Boeheim losing the national championship to Bob Knight’s 1987 Hoosiers — when Keith Smart hit that sweet baseline shot as Triche’s uncle, Howard Triche, came from the wing too late to defend — who knows.

But this was a clinic of hard-knocks Eastern seaboard basketball — with a little Marquette elbow grease to make all the original Big East schools proud.

The glamour final would have been Indiana-Miami, who scored all those points and won all those games and flirted with No. 1 in the land at different junctures of their very good seasons.

But the guts final was always Syracuse-Marquette — bump-and-grind Big East teams, beating the hell out of one another for the right to go to the Final Four and beat someone else up.

As the last Orangemen faithful were filing out of Verizon Center, the Syracuse student section let out a monstrous chant: “Oh yeah — and Georgetown still sucks!”

Those words could no doubt be heard from center court to the Hilltop, resounding as loud and painful as another Florida Gulf Coast dunk.

For more by Mike Wise, go to www.washingtonpost.com/wise.

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