Stop Calling 'Em Champs

A squeak-by victory at home against Rutgers Tuesday night solidified what we should've been thinking for several weeks; it's time we stop referring to this year's Syracuse Orangemen as defending national champions.<br><br>

Last year's team, you know the one with actual senior leadership and the best freshman college basketball player ever. That team is done. Kueth Duany and Carmelo Anthony are long gone, and the leftovers of what was the greatest team in Syracuse history, don't have that championship look.

Just look at what the players themselves had to say about their 63-61 "victory." Leading up, during, and after the game, this year's team is still living in the past.

"It was a good chance for us to get together," guard Gerry McNamara said referring to a team meeting earlier in the week, "bring about memories of last year, what we're doing this year and what we should be doing."

Living in the past.

"We watched the tape against Rutgers last year, and (McNeil) literally won the game for us," SU head coach Jim Boeheim said in response to McNeil's solid play finally simulating what he accomplished last year. "Terrence (Roberts) saw some plays. He said, 'Who's that?' He didn't know who it was."

Living in the past.

Living in the past.

Stop. Move to the present; a present with a team that has no championship hopes, does not defend with the heart of a champion, and whose current players, with the exception of Hakim Warrick, are failing miserably to duplicate the magic that surrounded last year's improbable tournament run. This season is the complete opposite of last.

Last season the Orangemen began the season unranked. This year they began ranked No. 7 in the ESPN/ USA Today Coaches Poll. Last season they climbed to No. 1 by winning the national title. This season they're barely in the Top 25 now, clinging to No. 25.

Last season the Orange lost five out of 35 games. This season, the Orange have lost five out of 19 games.

Last season the Orangemen waited patiently through 12 games for their point guard Billy Edelin, just in time for the meat of their schedule. This season they can't find their point guard Billy Edelin, just in time for the stretch to determine if they'll even make the NCAA tournament.

Last season they had Anthony. This season, they don't.

Still, it goes beyond one player. The main difference between the two teams is attitude, not Carmelo Anthony.

Last year's team stepped onto the court every game with something to prove.

They played ranked opponents with a thirst for upsets. The fans, the players, the coaches, everybody was caught up in the underdog story.

This year they're the hunted, not the favorite, and they come out against ranked teams ready to be slaughtered.

Last year's team went into a home game against Rutgers ready to avenge one of its few defeats at Rutgers, a loss the Orangemen swore to avenge on the court they didn't lose a game on.

This year's team, unlike last year's team, was actually pleased with this type of win.

"This was a must-win," junior Josh Pace said after the game. "We had to have this win. For confidence reasons and for standings in the Big East. We just knew. When you look at the TV and in the paper and you see the standings, you know you have to get a big win."

Last year's team didn't read the papers worrying about standings in the BIG EAST. They were only concerned with winning every game, not picking ones that matter in the standings.

It'd be unfair to expect the same things from the Orangemen that they accomplished one year ago. But it shouldn't be too much to expect that they play like defending champions with something to prove.

Until they do, we should stop referring to them as the defending national champions; former champions is more appropriate.

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