SU pulled a minor miracle by beating UConn today, 86-84, in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. This is the rare time that a #8 or #9 beats a #1 seed in the Big East (it's happened about four times now) and it's a huge win for SU because it gives the Orange not just "a" marquis win but "the" marquis win of all the games they've played to date: beating the #1 team in the country in the conference tournament. And this win came after two losses in the regular season to UConn that indicated SU didn't belong on the same floor as the Huskies.
So the Cardiac 'Cuse won their second-straight thriller -- a 3-pointer from senior point guard Gerry McNamara with 0.5 seconds left beat Cincinnati Wednesday; a 3-pointer from G-Mac tied today's game at 74-74 and sent it into overtime. I think beating a superior team in OT is especially impressive because it means the opponent had MORE time to take control and beat your a--, but could not.
Beating UConn, after beating Cincy (which is around #31 in the RPI), should cement a spot in the NCAA Tournament for Syracuse. A win tomorrow would remove all doubt. Ultimately, however, these two games have been about more than just SU's tourney hopes.
First, they've been swansongs for G-Mac as he's overcome shooting problems (combined 9-31) to show his value as a distributor (22 assists) and the clutch play (game-tying and game-winning 3-pointers) that have characterized his play since his freshman year -- from the game-winner against Notre Dame, to the 4 second-half triples despite injury against Oklahoma State in the NCAA, to the six first-half bombs against KU in the national title game. There's a good-sized list on the G-Mac hit parade (don't forget the 43 against BYU in the 2004 NCAA, game-winning fling against G'Town last year), so it's especially nice that after his worst-shooting season he's had these two great high points.
Second, the big men for SU finally awakened -- Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts have scored 29 and 32 points, combined and the whole starting five has hit double-figure point totals in both games. This is what SU expected and how it played in early January. In addition, it's especially nice that SU pulled these wins because the last two times it needed to perform in the Big East Tourney to get to the NCAA (1997, 2002) it honked.
Third, other bubble teams have failed where SU succeeded: Seton Hall, Cincy (although the Bearcats are probably in), Florida State and Michigan all honked in opening round action at their tournaments while SU has advanced to the Big East semis.
Fourth, from the you-heard-it-here-first files -- UConn won't win the NCAA. First round (i.e., quarterfinal) losers in their conference tourneys just don't (UNC = ACC semis 2005, UConn = Big East champs 2004, SU = Big East semis 2003, Maryland = ACC semis 2002, Duke = ACC champs 2001, Mich. State = Big Ten champs 2000, UConn = Big East champs 1999, Kentucky = SEC Champs 1998; etc.).