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Syracuse Most Unlikely Final Four Team Ever?

Posted by Javier Morales on 3/30/2016 3:29:19 AM

Syracuse was not among the favorites to win the NCAA tournament upon the outset of March Madness. In fact, the Orange were one of the last teams to make the field as a No. 10 seed.

Jim Boeheim's team remains a longshot to win the title with the longest odds (+1000) of the four teams remaining, according to the SportsBetting.ag Sportsbook. North Carolina is favored at -120 followed by Villanova (+245) and then Oklahoma (+325).

March Madness is all about unlikely teams catching fire and reaching the Final Four when nobody expects them to get that far. Syracuse is among those schools that weren’t a blip on the radar prior to the NCAA Tournament but have historically found some momentum in the early rounds of the Big Dance to challenge the top teams in the nation during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Is Syracuse most unlikely Final Four team ever?

With George Mason, VCU, Wichita State and Butler advancing to the Final Four, the tourney (especially in the last decade of so) has been no stranger to an underdog program shocking the country with clutch win after clutch win over a couple of weekends in March.

The Syracuse Orange are not an underdog of program because they are in the ACC and Boeheim's teams have now reached six Final Fours and captured a national title back in 2003. Boeheim has also produced several NBA greats, such as Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks. Calling the Orange a “Cinderella” team is a bit of a stretch, but the team’s run to the Final Four this season is an exception.

Runs by VCU, George Mason, Butler, and others were very unpredictable. With the turmoil that the Orange went through this season and the way in which they have won in the tournament, however, it’s hard to believe that Boeheim's team will play in the Final Four in Houston this weekend.

Key to Cinderella is making improbable run

Cinderellas advancing to the Final Four in the past decade achieved that status by making improbable runs. George Mason's run in 2006 and VCU's Final Four appearance of 2011 are examples of the ultimate Cinderella. Nobody outside of their fan bases believed they could get that far.

Syracuse obviously is not at the level of George Mason and VCU. The Orange are from a power five conference. They should reach the Final Four in any given year based on their tradition. However, they are just the fourth double-digit seed to ever reach this stage in the tournament. They are the first No.10 seed to do so (the previous three were No. 11 seeds).

Why Syracuse's run is unbelievable

For much of the season, the Orange was behind the rest with Boeheim suspended for the first nine games of the year, which opened the possibility of unexpected early-season losses. When Boeheim was back on the sidelines, ACC play was just around the corner. Syracuse lost its first four games in conference play. Syracuse responded with big wins over the likes of Duke and Notre Dame, but a 19-12 finish (just 9-9 in conference) saw them land in ninth place in the ACC. They thought they needed some success in the conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament.

Things seemingly came tumbling down in their very first ACC Tournament game as the Orange lost to a Pitt team that didn't even make the NCAA field. Many believed Boeheim's team had its NCAA tournament bubble busted. By the time Selection Sunday came around, there weren’t many people that expected the team to be included in the 68-team field. Much to Boeheim's delight – and to the surprise of many – the selection committee gave the Orange a No. 10 seed in the Midwest region as one of the last teams to receive an at-large berth.

Syracuse hasn’t looked back. Boeheim's team was strengthened by the adversity of its season and have taken advantage of their second chance in March, unlike any team that's survived through March Madness. Syracuse went into overdrive late in their next round of NCAA tournament games.

Syracuse's dream run accentuated by clutch wins

The way in which Syracuse has won in March Madness has made their Final Four berth more unbelievable. They got by their first two opponents (Dayton and Middle Tennessee State) with ease, winning by 20-plus points in each contest. Middle Tennessee State was coming off a monumental upset of No. 2 seed Michigan State. Once the Orange reached the Sweet 16, the competition got stronger and the games got tighter. Many pundits believed Boeheim's team reached the end of its dream ride.

The Sweet 16 game was against No. 11 Gonzaga, a team some thought would be the double-digit seed to reach Houston after the way the Bulldogs handled Utah in the second round. The Bulldogs had the Orange down late in the game before Syracuse made a late-game run with precision on both sides of the ball to win 63-60. That win was a display of the team’s defensive ability and clutch play. Next up was a showdown with the 1-seed in the Midwest region in ACC heavyweight Virginia. No way Syracuse could win that game, right?

The Cavaliers defeated the Orange earlier in the season by a hefty margin. Tony Bennett's team was rolling and was considered a national-title favorite by many prior to the Elite Eight. Virginia was up 54-39 late in the second half of Sunday’s game. As Syracuse has done all season, however, they overcame adversity to finish the game on a 29-8 run to steal the victory by a score of 68-62. Again, it was clutch defense and offense especially by freshman Malachi Richardson that carried the team.

So where does Syracuse's magic run stand historically?

Is Syracuse the most unlikely team to reach the Final Four? No. Programs such as VCU and George Mason have more of an unlikely chance because of the mid-major status and inability to recruit as prominently as Boeheim.

Is the Orange's run one of the most unlikely in NCAA tournament history? Yes. George Mason only beat higher-seeded teams back in 2006 in during their run, but they didn’t have to overcome the late-game deficits that Syracuse has faced this year. VCU actually had to win an extra game back in 2011 (in the First Four), but they were mostly dominant on their way to the Final Four, winning all but one game by double-digits. The Orange have battled back from massive deficits more than any other comparable squad to get this far.

It is strange to call Syracuse a “Cinderella,” but its run this season is unique when it comes to March Madness. Their 13 losses are tied for the most ever by a Final Four team. They are the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four. Their difficult comeback against one of the best teams in the nation – Virginia – will be talked about forever at Syracuse.

If Boeheim's team does the unthinkable and becomes the first double-digit seed to win a championship, it will earn the distinction as the greatest underdog in the history of the NCAA tournament. Regardless of what happens, Orange have already inspired college basketball fans by offering the Cinderella story many crave this time of year.

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