Ten years ago, Syracuse won the National Championship behind freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony. It was a moment, and season, about which Orange fans still wax poetic. Now ten years later, Syracuse is returning to the Final Four. The program had its share of ups and downs in between.
The immediate result of the title was a weight lifted off of Jim Boeheim's shoulders. He finally had the title for which he had long searched. There was also the improvement in recruiting. The Orange landed four 4-star players in the 2003 class (Terrance Roberts, Darryl Watkins, Louie McCroskey and Demetris Nichols). They followed that up with two more in 2004 (Dayshawn Wright and Josh Wright), a 5-star in 2006, (Paul Harris) and two more 5-stars in 2007 (Donte Greene and Johnny Flynn). Syracuse recruiting has been among the nation's elite ever since.
But on the court success was filled with mixed results. The 2003 class that had Orange fans hoping of continued success with Final Four runs did not pan out as originally hoped. While they were solid contributors over their Syracuse careers, none become the stars many thought they would.
The 2003-04 season was another strong Syracuse season, with the Orange finished 23-8 including a trip to the Sweet-16. However, the Orange lost to 8-seeded Alabama in a disappointing upset loss. The following season, Syracuse had another strong regular season, but were upset in the first round NCAA Tournament by Vermont. Syracuse had a memorable Big East title run in the 2005-06 season, but fell in the first round once again, this time to Texas A&M.
Syracuse then had a few years of relative down seasons, at least for the Orange. An NIT appearance after being snubbed by the selection committee concluded the 2006-07 season. The Orange suffered the same fate in 2007-08 season, failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.
As recruitment continued to pick up, the Orange started to see that success on the court as well in the 2008-09 season. Syracuse finished the season with 28 wins and a Sweet-16 appearance. The most memorable moment of that season the historic six overtime win over Connecticut.
In 2009-10, the Orange had one of the best seasons in school history. Ironically, featuring some of their most unheralded recruits in Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, and a transfer from Iowa State in Wes Johnson among others. Syracuse won the Big East regular season title outright, and finished with 30 wins. However, they lost starting center Arinze Onuaku in a Big East Tournament loss to Georgetown. That loss led to an early exit from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet-16 to Butler. Syracuse fans had their Final Four dreams dashed.
Another solid season followed with 27 wins and a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, they faced Big East foe Marquette in the round of 32 and were upset, ruining Final Four aspirations once again.
Syracuse topped their 2009-10 season with the most wins in school history (34) in 2011-12 and won the Big East regular season title outright with a 17-1 record. Again, the Orange lost their starting center entering the NCAA Tournament as Fab Melo was declared ineligible to play. However, Syracuse was still one of the favorites to make the Final Four as a 1-seed. But the run fell one game short as they lost to Ohio State in the Elite-8.
Redemption would come for Syracuse fans this season. A fast 18-1 start gave fans hope. But a late regular season swoon combined with offensive struggles had many fans expecting an early exit. The Orange plowed through those doubts, and continued to fight hard for on the court success. Prized recruits Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair led Syracuse through the East region in dominant fashion.
Poetic justice was at its finest through this run. Syracuse had a rematch with Indiana who broke the hearts of Orange fans in 1987. Syracuse dominated the Hoosiers who had been one of the favorites to win the championship. Next up was Marquette, who ended the Orange's season just two years ago, and had defeated them earlier this season. Syracuse dominated the Golden Eagles from start to finish en route to their fourth Final Four under Jim Boeheim.
As if all of that wasn't enough, Syracuse reached the Final Four on their arch rival's home floor. The East Regional took place at the Verizon Center, the home of the Georgetown Hoyas. As Georgetown fans dealt with another early NCAA Tournament exit, Syracuse fans were celebrating on their home court. In the last year of the Big East as we know it, Syracuse celebrated a Final Four berth on Georgetown's home floor.
The Orange will now pack their bags for Atlanta with championship aspirations. Something that seemed impossible a few short weeks ago is now so close. Maybe Jim Boeheim wants to play as many games as a member of the Big East as possible. Or maybe this team is just the best defensive team Boeheim has ever had. Regardless, Syracuse has punched it ticket to the Final Four. For Orange fans, it's been ten years in the making.