On Saturday, Syracuse University will face the University of North Carolina in a semi-final game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. This season, North Carolina finished first in the ACC with a record of 14-4. Syracuse finished tenth with a record of 9-9. In addition, North Carolina defeated Syracuse when the teams met about a month ago.
It seems odd, therefore, that North Carolina is asked to beat Syracuse again in order to play for the national championship. If this season has demonstrated anything, it has demonstrated that North Carolina is the superior team. An upset on Saturday wouldn’t change this.
I don’t mean to suggest that an upset won’t happen. Syracuse plays a terrific 2-3 zone defense. Carolina probably will need to shoot well from three-point territory or else face a close game. In their February 29 meeting, the Tar Heels shot only 6 for 25 from downtown and won by only six points at home.
In that game, Syracuse freshman Malachi Richardson shot 3-9 and scored just 10 points. However, Richardson has become a prolific scorer to go along with team star Michael Gbinije and three good complementary players. Thus, Syracuse has reason for hope on Saturday.
Syracuse participated in the Final Four in 2013. At that time, I came up with my list of all-time Syracuse stars.
For this tournament, I will republish that list and add two names — Gbinije and C.J. Fair (from the 2013 team). I doubt that the lists of top scorers, rebounders, etc. that I cited in 2013 have changed much (if all) since then:
Sherman Douglas (1986-89)
Lightly recruited until late in his senior year at Washington D.C.’s Spingarn High, went on to become Syracuse’s all-time leader in asists and number 6 all-time in points (he was number 1 when he finished his career). The beauty of his playmaking can’t be captured in numbers, but you get some idea from the fact that he holds the top three places on the Cuse’s all-time single season assist list. In his senior year, he averaged 8.6 assists per game.
Dave Bing (1964-66)
Like Douglas, Bing played his high school basketball at Spingarn (which closed this year). Bing averaged 24.8 points per game over his Syracuse career, and 28.4 his senior year. In addition, at 6 feet 3 inches, he averaged more than 11 rebounds per game in his last two seasons. A basketball Hall of Famer, Bing currently is the Mayor of Detroit. Even so, he says he’s rooting for Syracuse (coached by his former backcourt mate, Jim Boeheim) to beat Michigan.
Billy Owens (1988-91)
A first-team All-American and Big East player-of-the-year in his junior (and final) season at Syracuse, Owens had a terrific all-around game. In that final season, he averaged 23.3 points per game and 11.6 boards.
Carmelo Anthony (2003)
I hate to honor a “one-and-doner” with first team status, but Anthony delivered Syracuse’s only national championship in his one season. That year, Melo averaged 22.2 points per game and 10 rebounds. He was named second team All-American, but by the latter stages of the season, the freshman might well have been the best player in the country.
Derrick Coleman (1987-90)
Coleman was interested in playing for Georgetown, but John Thompson never recruited him. Thompson later told Coleman he didn’t want to coach any more crazy kids from Detroit. Georgetown’s loss was the Cuse’s enormous gain. D.C. was a first-team Big East selection from his sophomore to his senior year, in which he was a consensus All-American and National Player of the Year. He’s the only player in college basketball history with more than 2,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 300 blocks. And his career field goal percentage is .568.
Pearl Washington (1984-86)
Pearl was the embodiment of the glamour of Big East basketball in the 1980s. He was also a helluva of point guard. In his junior (and final) season, Washington averaged 7.8 assists per game.
Lawrence Moten (1992-95)
He’s another Washington, D.C. product. If I’m not mistaken, he was the D.C. area player of the year in both football and basketball. Moten tops the Syracuse all-time scoring list. He averaged 19.3 games over four years. Last summer, at the age of 40, he played in the top D.C. summer league and still had that sweet stroke.
John Wallace (1993-96)
In his senior year, he carried Syracuse all the way to the national championship game, a loss to mighty Kentucky. That year, he was second team All-American and first team all Big-East. Wallace stands third all-time on both the school’s scoring and rebounding list.
Hakim Warrick (2002-05)
Warrick was born to provide “length” and athleticism to Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone. By providing it, he played a key role in winning the 2003 national championship. Indeed, his block of a Kansas shot secured victory in the final game. Warrick was Big East player of the year as a senior. He’s number 4 on the Syracuse all-time rebounding list.
Rony Seikaly (1985-88)
Seikaly was the top scorer on the national runner-up team of 1987. He’s number 2 on the Syracuse all-time rebounding list and number 7 all-time in career shooting percentage.
Gerry McNamara (2003-06)
As a freshman, McNamara was the point guard on the national championship team. He hit 6 three-pointers in the first half of the championship game. He’s number 1 by a mile on the school’s all-time three pointers made list and number 3 all-time in assists.
Greg Kohls (1970-72)
As a junior, Kohls averaged 22.1 points per game. As a senior, he averaged 26.7.
Stevie Thompson (1987-90)
This versatile guard-forward ranks 7th on the school’s all-time scoring list and 6th in all-time field goal percentage (.560). Everyone above him in field goal percentage played mostly in the low post.
Bill Smith (1969-71)
Averaged 22.7 points and 14.5 rebounds a game in his senior year.
Roosevelt Bouie (1977-80)
With Louis Orr, he formed the enormously successful Bouie and Louie show. At the end of his career, Bouie was the all-time Syracuse leader in blocked shots and shooting percentage, was second on the career scoring list, and third on the career rebounding list. He’s still number 2 in blocks and number 4 in shooting percentage.
The Honorable Mention list is too long to recite here. But let me mention two from the top of that list:
Vinnie Cohen (1955-57)
Cohen averaged 24.2 points per game as a senior. He went on to become one of Washington, D.C.’s top lawyers. I once tried to hire him as an expert witness, but he couldn’t take the assignment due to a conflict. Cohen, an African-American, was in the same Syracuse class as the legendary Jim Brown.
Rudy Hackett (1973-75)
Hackett was the star of Syracuse’s first Final Four team, and was a second-team All-American.
C.J. Fair (2010-14)
Fair was the leading scoring (14.5) and rebounder (7.0) on the 2013 Final Four team. He had 22 points and 9 rebounds in the semi-final (a loss to Michigan).
As a senior, Fair increased his scoring average to 16.5, but his shooting percentage fell from 47 percent to 43 percent and his three-point conversion rate from 46.9 percent to 27.9. Fair is an “honorable mention,” in my opinion.
Michael Gbinije (2013-16)
He’s a transfer from Duke who really came into his own this year as a senior. He averages 17.9 points per game and shoots 40 percent from three-point land.
Gbinije had an off game against Virginia in the regional final. In the previous game against Gonzaga, he scored 20 points but required 23 shots to do so.
Like Fair, Gbinije is an “honorable mention.” Given all of the talented players who have graced Syracuse over the years, cracking even the third team is a very tall order.