Syracuse now finds itself on the winning side of the best game – with apologies to Iowa State’s triple-overtime victory against Oklahoma State – and best shot of the season. We remember the game – the Orange’s thrilling overtime victory against Duke on Feb. 1.
And the shot will endure, too. Tyler Ennis’ running 35-foot heave at the buzzer gave Syracuse a 58-56 victory at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and, more important, it preserved the Orange’s undefeated record. Ennis’ shot was the kind that makes you wonder whether there’s some sort of magic propelling Syracuse.
Or course, the Orange haven’t needed much of that. With C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant on the wings, the Orange’s 2-3 zone is as problematic as ever. Fair is a force on offense, too, and Ennis, well, he’s convinced a lot of people that he might just be the best player in the ACC.
Still, undefeated seasons require some luck and some breaks, and Syracuse is creating opportunities to benefit from those things. With the victory at Pitt, the Orange is now one-third of the way through a daunting three-game gauntlet of road games to finish the regular season.
Up next, home games against N.C. State and Boston College then at Duke next Saturday. Survive that, and a road trip to Virginia waits on March 1. So it’s not exactly an easy closing stretch for Syracuse, which also has road games left against Maryland (Feb. 24) and Florida State (March 9).
Syracuse’s 24-0 start is third-best in ACC history, and it’s the best in the Parity Era of the past 15 or 20 years. The last ACC team with a better start than Syracuse? That would be N.C. State, which finished the 1972-73 season 27-0. The Wolfpack was ineligible for the NCAA tournament that season.
Before that, you have to go back to North Carolina’s 1957 national championship season – the Tar Heels finished 32-0.
It would be stunning if Syracuse lost to either N.C. State or Boston College, and so the Orange should be 26-0 when it travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium next Saturday. Duke, meanwhile, will be playing two days after traveling to UNC to make up a game that snow and ice postponed.
Speaking of weather, it has rarely affected an area college basketball game the way it did the Duke-UNC game on Wednesday night. Before that, the last time an area game was postponed because of weather was in 2000, when UNC’s game against Maryland was pushed back amid a storm that left nearly two feet of snow in Orange County.
The Tar Heels and Terrapins played two nights later than scheduled, with plenty of snow and ice still on the ground, and the game is remembered for having one of the best – if not the best – atmosphere in the history of the Smith Center. Because so few people could make it, students dominated the seating in the lower level.
They created no shortage of noise during UNC’s come-from-behind 75-63 victory. Before that, it’s unclear when weather forced another postponement of an ACC game in North Carolina. UNC’s first game in 1991 against N.C. State was postponed, but by the start of the Persian Gulf War.
Duke hosted Georgia Tech in 1996 at Cameron Indoor Stadium while a snow and ice storm raged on outside. The Blue Devils, though, have never had a game postponed in Mike Krzyzewski’s head coaching tenure, which dates to 1980.
There has been lots of talk about Syracuse and Duke becoming the new premier rivalry in the ACC, replacing the UNC-Duke rivalry. Without question, Duke-Syracuse is the more important game this season.
But the more important, better rivalry? Not much need in debating that.
UNC coach Roy Williams might have said it best when asked what it would take for UNC and Duke not to be the rivalry of record in the ACC.
“For one or both of us to go bad for a generation,” Williams said. “… I think it’d have to go dead for a long period of time before people would forget that.”
There’s a better chance of it being permanently snowed out.
It was a good week for:
• N.C. State, which won must-wins against Miami and Wake Forest and is now back on the better side of .500 just in time for its trip to No. 1 Syracuse.
No, the Wolfpack doesn’t stand a good chance up there. Yes, stranger things have happened.
It was a bad week for:
• Just about every other team trying to enhance its postseason resume.
Florida State lost twice and has lost five of six, yet somehow the Seminoles remain in ESPN’s projected field of 68. Clemson lost at Syracuse (expected) but then failed to beat Notre Dame on the road. Maryland did nothing to help itself.
If one of those teams fails to assert itself down the stretch, the ACC could be a five-bid league come Selection Sunday.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, lost out on a chance to host Duke in front of what would have been a wild, student-dominated crowd at the Smith Center.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter