Reader(s) of this blog know that The Monk bleeds orange, as in Syracuse Orange. So it's especially gratifying to see the team whomp despised rival Georgetown to all-but-clinch an NCAA berth, which the team did last night. This is not a great SU team by any stretch, and a deep NCAA run is a hopeful fantasy, at best. But The Monk likes the pride and determination the team showed, and as a 25+ year fan of SU and college hoops, The Monk would rather have his team honk in the NCAA than win the post-season NIT.
The impressive parts of last night's game were (a) SU's ability to hold Georgetown, the second-best FG% team in the nation, to 29.8% shooting including a 9:38 basketless drought in the second half; (b) Andy Rautins continuing to improve; (c) Demetris Nichols 4-for-5 finish after a 2-for-11 start; (d) the 18-2 run that turned a nailbiter into a rout; and (e) Terence Roberts playing 30+ minutes on a left knee that has a torn meniscus -- an injury that has gotten worse over the course of the season. The senior class has never reached its hype level, but has been a solid group and played well yesterday.
Five games ago, the Orange were 16-8, 5-5 in the Big East and still reeling from both a choke job at Louisville that saw them honk a 14-point lead in the last seven minutes and a butt-whipping at home from Notre Dame (103-91 -- not that close). Now the players seem to have determined how to play together and how to pull out close games. Good on them.
As for The Monk's alma mater -- take a look at the ACC standings and you'll be stunned: the same team that took a 24-point beating from 10-17 Utah is tied for first. Virginia has had serious ups and downs this season: beating Arizona to open its new arena, drilling Gonzaga by 21, dropping Maryland twice and squeaking by Duke; losses to Appalachian State and Stanford at home, and a drubbing from Va. Tech in the Commonwealth's backwater of Roanoke. Yes, UVa has benefited from the unbalanced ACC schedule (one game only with Duke, BC and UNC), but the team does deserve credit for hunting big games outside the conference. And Coach Dave Leitao (say: lee toe) has done a fine job in assembling what will be an NCAA team (19-8) even if it loses its last three games (two regular season, ACC first round). The Cavs' decision to dump Pete Gillen and his matador defensive schemes, hire Leitao a year before the team would open its new facility, and make a push for respectability, seems to be paying dividends. Go Cavs.