3 Seed in the Big Dance
Wow, so what to say about the Cuse's run through the Big East Tournament last week? I'm always going to remember this run as it happened during the most amazing week of my life. Wednesday night they opened up against Seton Hall. It was one of those games that you just felt they could drop because that's what Syracuse does. After a brutal 3-7 stretch that saw them lose to the cream of the crop in the Big East (@Pitt, Louisville, @UConn and both games against Nova as well as to Providence while they were undermanned and @Georgetown) the team righted the ship by knocking around the weaker teams (St. John's, Rutgers and Cincy) in the conference and an undermanned Marquette team in Milwaukee. So what team were we going to get? For about 25 minutes we got the Syracuse team that couldn't reach its potential. They went on runs but couldn't put a less talented Hall team away. Then Arinze Onuaku got a stupid technical foul for jawing. The ensuing trip down the floor for Syracuse saw Kristof Ongenaet taken down with a swinging chop by Brandon Walters. The foul was hard and intentional and got Johnny Flynn riled up. It was Eric Devendorf who stepped in to break things up. A Hall player pushed him in the face and somehow both players were hit with technicals. You can say a lot of things about Devendorf but the guy didn't deserve a T. Seton Hall, on the other hand, got what they deserved. Cuse went on a 17-3 run and sent them back to their hole in Jersey.

I was a little jacked up after that and ended up going to bed with several beers in me at 12:30 that night not thinking Carol would be going into labor the next day. We had just had a checkup and the doctor said she'd probably be holding past her due date. Of course she went into labor right after I left for work at 7am. The whole day Thursday Carol was going through irregular contractions. By the time we settled into a hospital room for the night she had been given something to ease the contractions. There was a TV in the room so I decided to watch the Syracuse-UConn game. The game was exciting. Syracuse was taking it at one of the best in the country. By halftime though I knew I needed to sleep. Carol was not in pain anymore but she wasn't going to be able to sleep. I needed to have my wits about me for when things started to progress. At about 12:30 I woke up to a text message from my brother. I looked up at the TV screen that I had accidentally left on and saw something that I thought said "6 OT" scroll across the bottom. What happened? Syracuse won maybe the greatest game in Big East Tournament history. I knew I wouldn't be able to see it since I had only Tivoed that game and it wouldn't have picked up anything after. Add to that the fact that the game started after another BET game and I didn't even get to watch all of regulation when we got home. If someone has that recording I'd love to see it. I watched the highlights in awe at how they stuck it out. The big shots. The near misses. UConn took a ton of bad shots in big situations and we just held on and slipped past them in the final OT. This could get us a five seed in the Big Dance. West Virginia had upset rival Pitt earlier so maybe Syracuse would have a shot to get to the final.

By the time the game started on Friday night I was holding my son, Julian Christopher Egnaczyk. I hadn't slept much at all in the past 24 hours and having a 6 hour old newborn wasn't going to help anything. Julian slept a little but I was exhausted. I watched the first half like the night before. I was amazed that Syracuse was not playing it slow. They just kept attacking. This team wasn't going to lay up even though they had every right to phone it in. I started watching the second half but by the time the game got to crunch time I was done. On the fold down chair in the hospital I laid back and tried to keep my eyes open for the end of the game. At some point I realized that it had gone into overtime. There was a free throw or a layup or something. Another overtime? After breaking in and out of sleep the game came to a conclusion. It dawned on me that we had won again. This team had some heart.

Of course we got the pressure defense of Louisville in the final. I honestly expected them to get blown out by 20 for lack of legs, not effort. This was one of the only times I have seen the Cardinals play this year. Let me tell you their defense is for real. Teams like Pittsburgh and traditionally Georgetown play strong defense but somehow are able to change the rules of basketball. Louisville did not do this. They played pressure defense and did it without bending the rules of contact. I was impressed with this team and think they could win it all. Again though, I was amazed at Syracuse's tenacity. They did not back down. They ran right into the teeth of that press and came out ahead after 20 minutes. They were up 8 at the half. I called my brother at half time and said I still thought we could lose by 20 but that I was so proud watching this team play. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation but I almost lost it when Kristof got knocked to the floor on a layup. The foul wasn't dirty but he could have really messed up his back. Essentially having played 3 games in 2 nights Cuse came out and played how they'd played all year against maybe the best team in the country. Louisville quickly liquidated the deficit, took the lead and then put some distance between them and Syracuse in the second half. The second half was that 20 point blowout I'd been expecting. I can think of a couple of crucial mistakes against the press that Flynn and Devendorf made that really set the Cardinals off. A couple of mistakes was all that it takes against a defense that good. Late in the game they missed some good scoring opportunities and that was that. They ended up losing the championship. Julian will have to wait a year for a Big East Championship.

It wasn't the magical finish of Gerry McNamara's 2006 team but the total magic was equal. Johnny Flynn put up insane minutes. Someone needs to bottle what that guy runs on. Eric Devendorf showed himself off in the World's Most Famous Arena. Andy Rautins lit it up from three and Kristof Ongenaet threw his body all over the court. (Side note, do you love the play that they set up for Rautins at the top of the key? Two bigs set up like they're screening for Flynn and when he passes them they turn and screen down for Rautins. Catch. Fire. Bang. Once a game. Every game. Beautiful.) Even Rick Jackson impressed. While Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku weren't the forces they could be they both had their moments as well. I hate to bring it up but can you think of this much heart being attributed to last year's team with a certain one and done player heaving up garbage shots any chance he got? No way. I love that I'm going to associate this run with Julian.

The Big East Tournament must be very kind to Syracuse and the teams of the Big East in general. Can you imagine watching those games in MSG as a highly touted recruit? I think that's some of the reason that kids come to play basketball during the god awful winters of Syracuse, New York.

So we get a three seed. You never know with this team. That's an inflated seed but what the hell. After a 2007 snub and deservedly missing out in 2008 they could use a little help from the committee. My law of brackets says I have to pick them to go all the way. It's tough when your team was a #6 seed a week ago but I promise to go down with this ship (in at least some of my brackets). Memphis looks like they're in a good spot. Louisville might be my rational choice to win it all. UConn and Pitt get #1 seeds but I think they're vulnerable. UConn's seed factors in time when they were at full strength. Pitt always plays low scoring games. We'll see, sleep deprivation is kicking in so I'll have to fill out my bracket tomorrow. Although the hours and days are running together here with Julian.

I'm very proud of my new boy and I'm also quite proud of the way the Cuse finished strong this year. Well done, guys.

 
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