Syracuse lands NCAA berth; will face familiar foe in Dayton
Syracuse's perch on the NCAA Tournament bubble is over - the Orange are in.
Teetering on the brink of not being picked, Syracuse (19-13) was selected Sunday night as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region. The Orange will play a familiar foe, No. 7 Dayton (25-7) of the Atlantic 10 on Friday in St. Louis.
Syracuse wasn't announced until late in the two-hour selection show - the bracket was leaked during the show on Twitter - and the team erupted in cheers at the announcement, jumping up and down in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center on campus.
''I'm proud of this team. There was so much negative, so many difficult things this year,'' coach Jim Boeheim said. ''They heard all the talk about going to the NIT, all that stuff. I'm probably the happiest I've been on selection Sunday since I've been coaching.''
Most prognosticators had placed the Orange either in a play-in game as one of the last four teams in or not making the 68-team field.
''We had a tough season,'' Boeheim said. ''We had a really tough stretch in the middle. We dug a hole, but this team dug itself out.''
The Orange are making their 38th NCAA Tournament appearance overall, and 32nd in Boeheim's 40 years at his alma mater.
''I think we had a shot, a good shot because of our wins this year,'' fifth-year senior guard Trevor Cooney said. ''We proved we were a good team. We had one bad loss, but all of our losses were close games. We were in every single game, and not many teams in the country can say that.''
Syracuse enters the tournament having lost five of six games after winning eight of nine. The late swoon apparently didn't matter in the end. Impressive wins over UConn and Texas A&M on the way to winning the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, and a win at Duke were the most important parts of the Orange's resume, which also included three losses to Pittsburgh. Four of the Orange's losses also came against teams in the top 18 of the RPI.
''I was worried going in, but when I saw teams get in with only two wins against the top 50 (teams) and we had five, I started to get a little comfort level that we were going to make the tournament,'' Boeheim said. ''In the past, the committee has taken teams that had big wins. It's been something they've always done, especially road wins. I don't think anybody else (on the bubble) had as good a two road wins as we did - at Duke and Texas A&M on a neutral court. There's two top 20 wins. I thought those would help us.''
The NCAA said its selection committee would take into account the Orange's performance in the absence of Boeheim, who was suspended for nine games as part of sanctions levied against the university a year ago. Syracuse went 4-5 under assistant Mike Hopkins, including the worst loss of the season, 84-72 to St. John's at Madison Square Garden in mid-December, and started 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference before Boeheim returned in January.
''I don't think the committee needed to consider whether I was there or not because we had enough wins against the top 50,'' Boeheim said. ''I think that's what determined that Syracuse got into the tournament.''
Now Syracuse has a rematch with the Flyers. Two years ago, Dayton was an 11th seed in the South when it upset No. 3 seed Syracuse 55-53 in Buffalo to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years.
It's a fitting end to the career of fifth-year senior Michael Gbinije, who transferred from Duke after his freshman year. Because of the NCAA investigation, Syracuse opted not to participate in the postseason last year in anticipation of impending sanctions.
''It's just an honor,'' said Gbinije, who leads Syracuse in scoring (17.8) and was 4 for 5 from the field for eight points against Dayton in the 2014 tournament. ''In high school, you're watching college basketball and imagining playing in these types of games. I think Syracuse, as a whole, deserves it after going through last year. It's just great all around to be accepted.''
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