Two weeks ago, this game appeared as though it would be a major stepping-stone game for the Orange to propel them into the Big East Tourney. SU was coming off back-to-back wins against Louisville and West Virginia and improved to 7-6 in league play. With what projected as "winnable" road games against Georgetown and DePaul, SU fans were hoping for their Orange(men) to enter Sunday's season finale with a shot at a 10th Big East win.
All that went out the window. Syracuse played a dispirited game against Georgetown, losing at the MCI center 68-53. They followed that up with a mystifyingly horrific performance at DePaul (no need to go further into that). With SU now standing at 7-8 in league play, this game has seriously lost some of its luster.
Still, two things remain to hype it: 1) a win would probably get the Orange into the NCAA tourney, and 2) this is the final regular season game of Gerry McNamara's career. I qualified the previous sentence because with the way things are looking, SU might find itself back in the Dome in 10 or so days, playing a first round NIT game. That's how important this afternoon's game is.
Getting back to McNamara – the situation for his final home game couldn't have played out in a more bizarre way. With the team coming off the worst loss of the Boeheim era, and Gerry himself having the most inconsistent season of his career, it will likely be a very weird vibe in the Dome this afternoon. But rather than focus on the recent negatives, I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on an otherwise fantastic career.
The lasting images that I'll take from Gerry career are numerous. Probably the first glimpse of greatness came against Georgia Tech in his freshman year, when he posted 25 points and 10 assists in a flawlessly played game on national television. Even in his first Big East game, he gave Orange fans something to remember, falling to the ground on a fastbreak, but somehow maintaining his dribble before flipping an underhanded pass to a trailing Carmelo Anthony for an open three. The play was Globetrotter-esque and underscored the developing chemistry between the two players that would eventually lead to a National Championship.
Of course, there are the 6 first half threes in the National Championship game. But even before that there was Gerry hitting 4 second half threes in his first Big East road game at Seton Hall. His performance prompted the famous "all he did was hit open shots" quote from Andre Barrett, to which Gerry responded "if all I did was hit open shots, then where was he?" Then there was the game winning shot against Notre Dame in the Dome, and his late flourish against Georgetown in the MCI center that included a game tying 3-pointer, then 8 more points in overtime.
On way the to the National Championship, he helped SU regain control of the Oklahoma State game, hitting 3 huge triples while bloodied in the second half. Then in the semi-finals, Gerry turned in a stunning 19-point game against T. (sorry, he's got no J.) Ford and Texas.
Since then there have been so many other memories that he's provided. 43 points against BYU in the 2004 NCAA tourney. Another game winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Georgetown in 2005. A huge game against Rutgers in the first round of the 2005 Big Tourney, giving the Orange momentum to eventually win the BET for the first time in 13 years.
Even 2006 has provided us with memories of Gerry's excellence. A game-winning drive against Notre Dame in January of this year. An incredible 38 point game against Davidson that include 8 three pointers. Sparking a win in SU's first trip to Cincinnati by hitting a 30 foot three pointer on the break, before eventually finishing with 29 points. A 30-point performance against Louisville in the Dome to help SU even its record at 6-6 in league play.
So, as we bid farewell to Gerry on this senior day, let's remember all of the great memories that he's provided for us. This year has been a tumultuous experience, but that doesn't take away from his stellar career record. Let's keep in mind that Gerry has contributed to 99 wins, a National Championship, another Sweet 16, and a Big East tournament Championship. That's a great deal of success in 4 years; a resume that barely any other guard in SU history can compare to. Now, let's just hope that some of that old magic can pop up today, and Gerry can give us one more set of lasting memories.
Obligatory Villanova Breakdown:
Jay Wright's Villanova squad enters the game with a stellar 23-3 overall record and a 13-2 mark in league play. The Wildcats will be fighting for a share of the Big East crown, as UConn beat Louisville 84-80 yesterday afternoon to clinch at least a tie for the title.
Wright's team employs a 4-guard offense a majority of the time, with Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Kyle Lowry, and Michael Nardi combining to pour in 62 points per contest. This quartet of players offer a diverse array of scoring skills. Foye and Lowry are nearly unstoppable going to the basket, Nardi is the team's best passing guard, and Allan Ray thrives in transition. In total, they have combined for 229 three pointers and each player shoots over 77% from the line. Now that's a productive group of guards!
While the frontcourt is not nearly as prolific, Wil Sheridan and Jason Fraser offer workmanlike performances that help the team win on a nightly basis. This duo is completely unspectacular, but they rebound, defend, set picks, and play within the offense in precisely the manner that Wright demands.
‘Nova's bench is a little thin after that, with only Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark seeing appreciable minutes. This hasn't been a factor during the season as the 4-guards are all superbly conditioned and rarely get into foul trouble, despite playing a very physical and intense brand of man-to-man defense. Even without significant contributions from the bench, this is clearly one of the top 4 teams in America and a likely #1 seed in the NCAA tourney when the pairing are announced a week from today.
If SU wants to hear its name called next Sunday, they are going to need to win today (or take at least 2 games in NYC during the BET). Let's hope that a HUGE dome crowd can spark a little bit of fire in these Orange(men) and they play with the pride and urgency that befits and NCAA tourney team. A big win this afternoon would be a fitting end to Gerry's Legacy at SU.