Friday, March 10, 2006

Big East Denies Syracuse Request To Skip First 39 Minutes of Title Game

Syracuse has had a tremendous run so far in the Big East tournament.  Despite being the #9 seed, the Orange has won three consecutive nail-biters to advance to Saturday’s championship game.  However, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has dealt the team its first defeat over the past few days.  Tranghese denied Syracuse’s request to skip the first 39 minutes of the title game and proceed directly to the final minute of play.



In the first round, the Orange used a last-second three-pointer from Gerry McNamara to defeat Cincinnati 74-73.  Against top-ranked Connecticut the following day, McNamara hit another critical three, tying the game with 5.5 seconds remaining.  Syracuse went on to win 86-84 in overtime.  Tonight, Eric Devendorf’s layup with nine seconds remaining gave the Orange a 58-57 triumph over Georgetown.  The exciting final minute of these games made Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim conclude that the first 39 were irrelevant.



Knowing that such a scenario is unavoidable versus Pittsburgh in the finals, Boeheim decided to appeal to the league to do away with the first 39 minutes on Saturday.  The Hall of Fame coach argued that such a move would benefit both teams and the conference in general.  He noted that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be playing for the fourth consecutive day, so competing for another 40 minutes could cause fatigue that might hurt both teams in the NCAA tournament.



In his appeal to league officials, Boeheim pointed out that his Orange trailed by 15 at halftime against Georgetown and led by 11 at the break versus Connecticut.  “But,” he asked Tranghese, “Do you remember any of that?  Of course not!  All you remember is Gerry making those big plays at the end – admit it!  It’s all about the drama at the finish – why waste any time on the rest?”



The coach cannot be blamed for wanting matters to go down to the last minute again.  McNamara has been transcendent at the end of all three victories, so Boeheim is eager to continue riding the senior’s wave of heroics.  After the victory over Cincinnati, Boeheim took the opportunity to lambaste a column in The Daily Orange that had labeled McNamara as overrated.  The column was actually written a month ago – mysteriously, Boeheim made no mention of it after his team’s 39-point defeat at DePaul.  He further blasted the campus newspaper for criticizing Derrick Coleman’s defense in 1988.  The coach remarked, “They’re entitled to their opinions – as long as they always say great things about us.”



As expected, Big East officials denied Boeheim’s request.  Tranghese cited the league’s broadcast agreement with ESPN, among other factors, to uphold the traditional 40-minute contest.  Boeheim responded that ESPN could easily fill time from 8:00 to 9:30, possibly with another viewing of last Saturday’s UNC-Duke game from the view of a camera inserted inside J.J. Redick’s sock.  However, his pleas were in vain, so the full 40 minutes will be played as scheduled.  Boeheim has not decided whether he will be on the sideline for the entire contest.  His preference is to watch a DVD of Hoosiers in the locker room, then go courtside for the last few minutes to see McNamara do his Jimmy Chitwood impression. 



Win or lose, Syracuse is much better off than a few days ago, when it was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.  It seems appropriate that the Orange waited so long to lock up a spot in the Big Dance.  After all, Syracuse is at its best when it waits until the last minute.