“Improbable” is one of those words that routinely finds its way into the sports lexicon. In fact, it’s right up there with “great” and “unbelievable” in terms of overuse.
Doing a Google search for the word “improbable” on Monday, three of the top four stories that popped up involved Syracuse’s unprecedented march to the Final Four. In this particular case, the cliche shoe (errr, slipper) fits.
Just one year ago, one could easily make the case that Syracuse was closer to becoming St. John’s (a hoops powerhouse that faded away as the years went by) than a Final Four participant. A year ago at this time, the Orange program was not a participant in postseason play as it gave itself a postseason ban due to the NCAA’s investigation into multiple violations.
“The University has taken this matter seriously and worked with the NCAA for nearly eight years to investigate and address potential rules violations,” said Syracuse Chancelor Kent Syverud at the time. “The process has been exhaustive.”
Yup, this stuff had been going on since 2007 and “what’s going to happen to Jim Boeheim?” became the No. 1 storyline associated with the program. “How far do you think Syracuse will go this year?” became a distant second.
When the poop hit the fan last year, Boeheim announced that he would step down in 2018 and that assistant Mike Hopkins would take over. Many wondered why the then 70-year-old Boeheim didn’t just throw in the towel right then and there? He wasn’t going to the postseason in 2015, he was going to be embarrassingly suspended for nine games in 2015-16 and the Syracuse name had taken such a hit due to the investigation that it was going to become exceedingly difficult to lure stars to snowy, upstate New York. Boeheim was also docked a whopping 101 wins as part of the school’s punishment – cementing the fact that he wouldn’t become the all-time winningest coach in men’s college hoops history.
In other words, Boeheim must really love this coaching stuff. Because things were pretty dire not too long ago and there really wasn’t a clear route back to the top.
But here we are. Just a year removed from the program’s lowest point.
The Orange’s come-from-behind win over 1-seed Virginia on Sunday night perfectly encapsulated the program’s run over the past year. Down 16 points in the second half, it was going to take an improbable turn of events to win.
The Orange outscored the Cavaliers 15-3 in the final 6:30 and Boeheim’s ticket to a fifth Final Four was booked.
“You know, it’s great to go to the Final Four. It’s great for this team because I only look at the basketball side,” Boeheim said. “I mean, I thought we deserved to be in the tournament, but certainly I didn’t – I wasn’t planning on getting to the Final Four.”
Boeheim and Syracuse are now just two wins away from their first National Championship since 2003. If that goes down six days from now, we’re going to have to come up with a word more improbable than improbable.
Syracuse would become the lowest seed ever (10) to win a national championship. Villanova currently holds the record as its 1985 squad won as a No. 8 seed.