Heading into March of the 2010 and 2012 seasons, the Syracuse Orange were one of the best teams in the country and favorites to reach the Final Four and possibly win a national championship. But extenuating circumstances that were out of the team’s control prevented the Orange from reaching their potential and winning a national title.
In 2010, the Orange finished the regular season 28-3, and in the minds of many were the clear favorite to win the national championship with a picture perfect seven-man rotation that steamrolled the Big East all season. However, starting center Arinze Onuaku suffered an injury in the Big East Tournament, which caused him to miss the rest of the season and forced Syracuse to reorganize its lineup, with little preparation time prior to the NCAA Tournament. Despite getting a one seed, the Orange lost in the Sweet 16. Had Onuaku not been injured, it’s not a stretch to say that Syracuse would have ended up in the national championship game, with a great chance to win the title.
In 2012, Syracuse entered the NCAA Tournament with a record of 31-2, after spending the entire season as a top-5 team. On the eve of the tournament, starting center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the tournament, after missing three games earlier in the season, during which time the Orange suffered one of its losses. Without Melo, who would later become a first-round NBA draft pick, the Orange still managed to reach the Elite Eight, but fell short of reaching the Final For. With Melo in the lineup, Syracuse’s only loss came in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament, a game in which the Cincinnati Bearcats made 10 of 22 three-point attempts, an aberration against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Had Melo been able to play in the NCAA Tournament, it stands to reason that the Orange would have reached the national title game and faced the Kentucky Wildcats, a game that would have matched up the two teams that were far and away the best in the country last year, and a game Syracuse would have had a real chance to win.
If not for the unfortunate loss of their starting center in both 2010 and 2012, Syracuse would likely be playing in its third Final Four in their last four years. Had they not been unjustly deprived of their starting center without any time to adjust before the start of the NCAA Tournament, the Orange may have won the national championship in either year, perhaps even both years. Missing out on the opportunity to win a national championship in 2010 was unfortunate, but the same issue repeating itself in 2012 was unfair, and infuriating for Syracuse fans to watch déjà vu unfold in front of their eyes when they could once again feel a national championship within their reach.
Plain and simple, Syracuse has been cheated in two of the last three seasons; cheated out of legitimate opportunities to win a national championship with teams that had proven without a sliver a doubt that they were among the best teams, if not the absolute best team, in the country. If there is such a thing as karma in the world, then Syracuse deserves to have some sent its way, and there’s no better way for that to happen than to win a national championship in a year when they were left for dead at the end of the regular season. Yes, the Orange will have to perform on the court and earn a title this weekend in Atlanta, but none of the four schools in the Final Four this year deserve a championship more than Syracuse.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.