College Basketball Nation: Jim Boeheim

Editor's note: For five weeks, we are revealing the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 12: Syracuse's Joe Boeheim. On Friday, we release No. 11.

This is not a legacy measure.

For all of the different ways our 45 ESPN Forecast college hoops panelists might have weighed their scores of the nation's top 50 -- and there are all sorts of ways individual emphases can come into play -- this was the defining criterion. These rankings were never meant to be about the aggregate work of a coach's lifetime. They are meant to cover current performance. It's a broadly limited term.
We've repeated that reminder as much as possible these last few weeks. Really, we can't stress it enough. And it's as important as ever now, as the countdown bears in on the top 10, and the names we so closely associate with tenure and legacy are revealed through this intentionally short-sighted prism.

Having said that: Is Jim Boeheim at No. 12 too low?

Given the lofty company, the panel is probably right. And No. 12 is hardly an insult.

To read more, click here.

3-point shot: What Pearl is selling

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
11:40
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video
Andy Katz discusses what Bruce Pearl is selling at Auburn, Utah's strong nonconference schedule and Jim Boeheim's thoughts on graduation rates in the latest edition of the 3-point shot.

3-point shot: Georgetown scheduling

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
1:00
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video
Andy Katz discusses Georgetown's nonconference scheduling, Syracuse hoping to play former Big East rivals in the future and Washington, D.C., as a tournament destination in the latest edition of the 3-point shot.

3-point shot: Potential rules changes

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:00
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video
Andy Katz discusses Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim's thoughts on the 30-second shot clock experiment and the NBA draft age limit, as well as Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins eventually succeeding Boeheim.
In the end, even Jim Boeheim undervalued the sport coat.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesLittle did Jim Boeheim know at the time that this jacket would sell for $14,000 two months later.
Boeheim was hosting his annual gala, the Jim and Juli Boeheim Basket Ball (great name!). He was officiating the gala's auction, to be more precise, an auction that featured a wealth of Syracuse and Syracuse-basketball-related items. One of these items was The Jacket -- the same navy blazer Boeheim was wearing just before he earned the first real (non-exhibition) ejection of his 38-year career in Syracuse's first visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 22.

And yes, The Jacket deserves proper-noun status. When you help inspire the greatest Boeheim meme of all time, your place in history is secured.

Despite this, it seems Boeheim didn't quite know how desirable The Jacket would eventually be. He taunted the bidders. He offered to wear it to the winner's house. When bidding began, Boeheim egged on the hopefuls. Little did Boeheim know -- as Syracuse Post-Standard reporter Donna Ditota found out -- winning bidder Neil Gold needed no urging.
Because opposing bids happened at the opposite end of Turning Stone's Event Center ballroom, Gold wasn't sure what kind of financial firepower he was up against.

All Gold knows is that the bidding "went on for a while." Boeheim, at one point, promised to wear the jacket to the winner's house, Gold said.

"He called me out during the bidding, saying I was the No. 1 fan," Gold said. "He goaded me a little bit. Little did he know that I was fully intending to get that."

The bidding ended on Gold's $14,000 pledge. Gold's attendance at the Duke game, where he sat directly behind the Orange bench and witnessed the SU coach strip off the very jacket he now possesses, makes the purchase more precious.

The spoils in photograph form. We can confirm that this is, in fact, a navy blue blazer:


But wait: $14,000?! Before you get all worked up about that bonkers price, first know that Gold is a massive Syracuse fan with a horseradish empire and an entire second house devoted to Orange memorabilia. To that dude, that much money doesn't really feel like that much money.

Most important, though, is that the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation sends all gala proceeds to benefit cancer research and local children's groups. Gold's purchase was really more like a donation with a bonus. A really expensive, niche-obsession-level bonus -- one the original owner didn't really seem to understand. But a bonus all the same.

Cuse slump reaches new lows

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
12:43
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ESPN Stats & InformationWith its loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday, Syracuse has dropped four of its last five games.
Despite getting a career-high 28 points from C.J. Fair, the Syracuse Orange have dropped four out of five games after starting the season 25-0. Georgia Tech delivered the 67-62 upset in a game in which the Yellow Jackets never trailed after taking a 10-9 lead early in the first half.

It hasn’t just been the sudden frequency of losses, but the quality of some of Syracuse’s opponents that has been surprising. Tuesday’s loss to Georgia Tech gave the Orange back-to-back home losses against teams that entered the game under .500 for the first time since January 1968, when they lost to Connecticut (5-7) and Niagara (7-8).

To put that in perspective, Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy scored 50 points for Niagara in that win and Jim Boeheim was playing for Scranton in the Eastern League that year.

Among teams currently in the top 10 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, two of the three worst losses (when ranked by BPI rank differential) have been by Syracuse: Tuesday’s loss to Georgia Tech had a BPI rank differential of 123, and their first loss of the season to Boston College on February 19 had a BPI rank differential of 138.

Offensive efficiency has been an issue of late for Syracuse. They have scored one point per possession or fewer in six straight games. That happened just twice over the Orange’s first 24 games.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Syracuse is just the second team in the last 20 years to lose four or more games in a season in which they started 20-0 or better. The only other team to do that in that span was Boston College in 2004-05.

The silver lining for the Orange is that last year they were able to rebound from a 1-4 finish to their regular season, reaching the final of the Big East Tournament before making a Final Four run in the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse finishes up its regular-season schedule Sunday at Florida State.

Video: Basketball's biggest blowup

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
12:30
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Dari Nowkhah and Adrian Branch discuss which outburst was more memorable: Jim Boeheim's ejection against Duke or Marcus Smart's incident with a Texas Tech fan.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.

ICYMI: TOP STORIES

Duke's win hinges on late block call; Boeheim goes ballistic, and then viral. Jim Boeheim is not a man who upsets easily. Save an exhibition game in 2005, Boeheim has never, in 38 years as the head coach at Syracuse, been ejected from a basketball game. He broke that streak Saturday night, and it was epic.

The call that earned Boeheim's rage was undeniably questionable, and suitably pivotal: Down 60-58 with 10 seconds remaining, Syracuse forward C.J. Fair drove baseline and caught a whistle that seemed subject to the new block-charge rule (wherein defenders have to be set before the offensive player makes his move at the basket). When the official signaled a charge instead, Boeheim pointed toward the new rule, and he was probably right. The problem is that he did so after ripping his jacket off and running on the floor and providing his opinion so vociferously he earned two quick technicals and was ejected from the game. At which point, the block-charge no longer mattered. The game was over.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJim Boeheim's first career ejection on Saturday sent the Internet into a meme-creating frenzy.
In the long term, Saturday's game will be rememembered as a second chapter in what is immediately becoming a marquee post-realignment ACC rivalry. For now, though, the legacy of this game is the explosion of hilarity Boeheim inspired on the Internet. There was Baywatch Boeheim, Breaking Boeheim, WWE Boeheim, Kool-Aid Boeheim, "This Is It" Boeheim and, my favorite, Operation Boeheim. And surely many more.

Jim Boeheim went 38 years without an ejection. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was waiting for the Internet to catch up.

Michigan sweeps Spartans in regular season, move into Big Ten lead, with a 79-70 win Sunday. Remember January? Back when Michigan was playing insanely effective offensive basketball, and Nik Stauskas was positioning himself as an All-American candidate? Remember the Wolverines going to East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 25 and sealing the whole impressive run with a win over their in-state rivals? That team was back again Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines scored 79 points in 62 possessions, good for 1.27 points per trip, the same average as on Jan. 25. Stauskas scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, Caris LeVert was brilliant, Tom Izzo left shaking his head about his team's inability to stop Michigan -- “We didn’t guard. We ran for 300 yards, passed for 400 yards, but you’ve gotta check someone," he said -- and the Wolverines swept their rivals and put their Big Ten title hopes firmly in their own hands. Not bad for one afternoon's work.

SMU likely seals tourney bid with 64-55 win at UConn. The one thing holding back the fighting Larry Browns from a surefire NCAA tournament bid was their lack of work away from home. All of SMU's notable successes this season had come in their own building -- including Jan. 4's statement win over Connecticut. On Sunday, the Mustangs repeated the feat against the Huskies on the road with a brilliant defensive performance, and a win that filled that last real hole on their résumé.

STAT OF THE WEEK: UNC's win over Duke made the Tar Heels the first team in history -- dating back to the very first Associated Press poll in 1961-62 -- to beat the AP preseason Nos. 1 (Kentucky), 2 (Michigan State), 3 (Louisville) and 4 (Duke) in the same campaign.

THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE

(For two more in-depth previews of two games earlier in the upcoming week -- and this one is especially back-loaded -- check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)

Saturday

Cincinnati at UConn, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: There are some decent games throughout the week, but nothing comes close to what we've got on deck Saturday -- it's an absolutely loaded slate, and Cincinnati-UConn kicks it off. The American features maybe the three best point guards in the country, and two of them (Cincy's Sean Kilpatrick and UConn's Shabazz Napier) will check each other on both ends of the floor in one that should get the blood pumping early this weekend.

Louisville at Memphis, 2 p.m. ET, CBS: Cincy-UConn will be followed immediately by Russ Smith's trip to the FedEx Forum in Memphis to play a Tigers backcourt that is rather talented in its own right. Louisville locked up its NCAA tournament prospects with Saturday's win at Cincinnati, and Memphis should be pretty safe, too, but this one is about more than tournanment seeds or even short-term conference tables.

Syracuse at Virginia, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: And then, of course, there's this. For weeks now, our own Andy Katz has been touting Virginia as a possible, even probable, ACC regular-season champion, and the scheduling of this game is part of the reason why. On Monday, Syracuse has to turn around from Saturday's loss at Duke with a road trip to Maryland (which should be a relatively easy win, but you never know). On Saturday, it completes its three-game road swing with an absolutely brutal game against one of the nation's most difficult defensive setups. Big, big game.

Saint Louis at VCU, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Last week, VCU nearly went to Chaifetz Arena in Saint Louis and did the unthinkable. Instead, the Billikens held on and extended their winning streak. Assuming it handles dreadful Duquesne Thursday, SLU will arrive in Richmond on Saturday having won its past 20 games. The last time the Billikens lost was Dec. 1 to Wichita State. Their only other defeat came by six to Wisconsin. They're having an insane year.

Kansas at Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Marcus Smart's first action since the infamous Jeff Orr shove was more than impressive: It was the kind of all-court command we hadn't seen Smart deliver since December. He finished with 16 points, 10 assists, 6 steals and 3 rebounds. He shot 5-of-7 from 2 and his team beat Texas Tech (oh, the revenge) by 22; the only negative was his 0-for-3 mark from 3-point range. Which raises the question: Is Oklahoma State ready to get back to the serious, elite form it displayed early in the season? Might a visit from Kansas -- remember, Oklahoma State nearly left Lawrence with a come-from-behind win on Jan. 18 -- redeem the past month of futility? Is Smart ready to be a star once more?

PHOTO VIDEO OF THE WEEK



This space is usually reserved for our favorite single image, but this week, there is no way to confer that honor without relying on the miracle of motion video. I'm talking, of course, about the Kansas bench's reaction to Tarik Black's huge dunk against Texas in the second half. There is the usual assortment of hold-me-back hugs and jumping, but the Jayhawks so thoroughly lost it that the ensuing celebration included a) Wayne Selden leaping over chairs and into a teammate's arms and, best of all, b) Naadir Tharpe doing a spinning robot through the fracas à la that recurring character on "Chappelle's Show." Black's dunk was good. That bench celebration was an all-timer.

Red flags waving faster for Syracuse

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Syracuse, a winner of its first 25 games, the No. 1 team in the nation, has in a week dropped back-to-back outings, dropped out of first place in the ACC and, in the process, dropped its close-game mystique.

It had to happen at some point, right?

The Orange were undefeated, but they were not dominant. The warning signs were there as early as the fourth game of the season when they trailed St. Francis Brooklyn by four points with four minutes left. They continued with close games against average teams like Miami, Notre Dame and North Carolina State.

"I think everybody realized we had a lot of things to learn," freshman guard Tyler Ennis said. "We weren’t playing our best, but we were still able to pull out wins."

The difference now is that a loss to Boston College in overtime and Saturday’s 66-60 loss at No. 5 Duke come at a time in the season when the best teams are generally trending upward. With road games left at Maryland, Virginia and Florida State, the Orange are trying to shrug off their setbacks.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim noted his team won its first eight games that were decided by two or fewer possessions before losing the past two.

"We flew through, obviously, and escaped a few times," Boeheim said. "We knew the end of the year would be hard, and that’s fine. These games help you. This will help you. This was a tournament game."

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeArguing a charge call against C.J. Fair earned Jim Boeheim two technical fouls.
Boeheim certainly acted like it when he was so disgusted that he charged on the court after C.J. Fair got called for a charge with 10.4 seconds left in a two-point game. He promptly earned two technical fouls and was tossed from the game.

There’s no panic in Syracuse yet, but redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Cooney knows how quickly things can turn.

"I know the guys who were on the team last year that played and we lost five in a row, so we know that feeling and you don’t want to ever have that feeling again," Cooney said. "So you just got to come ready for the next game. You put this game behind you. You learn from it, but you put it behind you."

Postseason games generally are won by great backcourts, but it’s starting to seem like a season’s worth of minutes could be taking its toll on the Orange’s tandem.

The past five games, Ennis is shooting just 33.9 percent from the floor. Ennis has played at least 40 minutes in six of their 13 conference games -- including 43 minutes in the overtime loss to Boston College -- and averages 35 minutes for the season.

Ennis said he wasn’t fatigued, but he was short on many of his jumpers against the Blue Devils, finishing just 2-for-13 from the floor. It marked his lowest shooting percentage for any game in which he’s had more than 10 attempts.

Over that five-game span, Cooney is shooting 29.2 percent, including his 1-of-5 outing against Duke. Cooney, who averages 32 minutes per game, scored his lowest total in ACC play with four points against the Blue Devils.

"We just got to get some easy points in transition, get Trevor some easy looks because he’s been guarded closely," Fair said. "When he makes 3s, that stretches everything else out for us."

Saturday’s game could be a launching point for sophomore guard Michael Gbinije to get more playing time. The Duke transfer returned to Cameron Indoor and scored eight points in 20 minutes off the bench.

He could bring much-needed relief to an Ennis-Cooney backcourt that has carried most of the backcourt load for the Orange all season.

"Our guards have played so far above anything that I would have ever hoped for. I’m just totally impressed with what they’ve done this year," Boeheim said. "Mike coming in is really a good thing for us moving forward. It was tough for him to come back down here and play. He played his best game of the year."

The good thing for Syracuse is its defense is playing at a high level. What’s hurting the Orange lately is their offense is lagging behind.

The rematch with Duke brought offense back to earth for both teams. The Orange, who shot 57.4 percent from the field in the first meeting, managed to shoot just 38.7 percent on Saturday. They scored half of their points in the paint, but when forced to shoot from outside that area, the Orange struggled.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Orange made just nine of 33 attempts from outside the paint against the Blue Devils. The past three games they are shooting just 20 percent outside the paint. That’s why they made an effort to get to the rim in the second half en route to shooting 51 percent.

"We played to our strengths. We attacked the basket a lot more. I feel like that’s why our percentage was so high [in the second half]," said sophomore forward Jerami Grant, who scored a team-high 17 points.

Grant said back-to-back losses haven’t put any dent in the team’s confidence in close games.

"We have a lot of poise. I definitely think we can bounce back," Grant said. "We have a quick turnaround, which is probably a good thing for us going out to Maryland. I know it’s going to be a tough game, tough environment. We’ll be fine. We just have to go out and play our own game."

Video: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
1:30
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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim discusses his team's narrow victories against Pitt and NC State, as well as the play of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis.

Does “clutch” exist?

Most advanced statisticians say no. Time and again, when the data is compiled and collated, the numbers tell us that in “clutch” situations, most players perform roughly as well as at any other point in the game. Sometimes, the players we know are clutch — Kobe Bryant is the most notable example — are even worse than normal. Science tells us no, clutch isn’t a thing. But then how do you explain Tyler Ennis?

Here’s another question: Was Syracuse supposed to beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday night?

The Orange trailed the entire game — they were never behind by more than a bucket or two, sure, but they were never in command, either. They were outrebounded by huge ratios on both ends of the floor. The offense was frequently stagnant.

In the closing moments, they traded toe-to-toe go-ahead free throws, but they were on the wrong side of that exchange with four seconds and zero timeouts and the ball out of bounds on their own baseline. The only shot they could get was a 35-foot heave from their freshman point guard as the buzzer expired. You’re not supposed to win that game, are you?

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis
Justin Berl/Icon SMISyracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is proving to be practically unstoppable with the game on the line.
Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but you don’t get to be 24-0 without the wind at your back. Sometimes, the coin flips your direction a few times in a row. Sometimes “supposed to” has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes, clutch does exist.

Yes, folks, Syracuse is 24-0, still rolling, still discovering new and more nail-biting ways to win games, still unbeaten two full weeks into February. The latest escape, a 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, came courtesy of Ennis — who else? — who recused the Orange from a hard-fought first loss of the season with a stunning 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.

How does this keep happening? Ennis didn’t just make the game-winner, after all; he cooly knocked down two free throws a possession earlier to put the Orange ahead for the first time. It was only after Pitt forward Talib Zanna repaid the favor on the other end that some truly silly last-second heroics were required.

But that’s what Ennis has done all season. According to ESPN Stats and Info — and these are crazy numbers, so it’s probably best to be seated — in one-possession games in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime games this season, Ennis is 8-of-9 from the field and 14-of-14 from the free throw line with six assists and zero turnovers. On “game-tying or go-ahead plays,” he is 4-of-4 from the field and 8-of-8 from the line. Against Duke, he made the free throws that would have sealed the game in regulation, before Rasheed Sulaimon’s buzzer-beating 3. In overtime of that game, he went 4-of-4 from the stripe.

Most NBA veterans don’t have this gift of self-assured cool. Ennis is a freshman in college.

That said, chalking it all up to Ennis’ brilliance would do the rest of the Orange a disservice, just as claiming Syracuse didn’t deserve to win Wednesday would belie the strength of their performance, and their opponent’s.

Pitt won the interior battle against one of the longest, toughest teams in the country. It grabbed 47 percent of its own misses and 76 percent of Syracuse’s, and it blocked 25 percent of available shots on its own end. Syracuse was held to just three second-chance points. Save their two meetings with Pitt, the Orange have scored at least eight in every other game this season.

On offense, the Panthers poked and prodded the Syracuse zone with relative efficiency, using Lamar Patterson’s brilliant feel (and years of Big East experience) to break down the middle of the zone. The final Pitt free throws happened exactly that way — Patterson got the ball into the middle of the lane and dropped off a little pass to Zanna, who drew the foul. It was hardly the first time that strategy worked Wednesday night. Zanna finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, Patterson with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEnnis had made only one field goal in the second half before his buzzer-beater.
But Syracuse, despite trailing for so much of the game, was better in nearly every other area. The Orange shot the ball better, at least when it wasn’t being blocked, including 6-of-14 from 3-point range. (Trevor Cooney was 3-of-8, and his biggest of the night tied the game at 45 with 6:54 to play.) They got to the free-throw line more often. They turned the ball over on just 15 percent of their possessions, while forcing Pittsburgh to cough it up 21 percent of the time — swarming, stifling stuff that kept the game within reach throughout the second half. Patterson got his 14 points, sure, but he needed 16 shots to do it.

All of which made it possible for Ennis to do his thing at the end. Which he promptly did.

It’s hard to overstate how disappointing the loss is for Pittsburgh. On the one hand, there’s no shame in losing to Syracuse. On the other hand, after playing the Orange close on the road early in the year, after home losses (the latter a similar heartbreaker) to Duke and Virginia two weeks ago, and after near-upsets to Miami and Virginia Tech on the road in the past seven days, Dixon’s struggling team had a victory over the top team in the country right in its grasp.

One might conclude that paragraph by saying Pitt let the game “slip away.” That Pitt should have won, that Syracuse should have lost. That this was the night Ennis’s unmistakable clutchness would fall in line with scientific understanding. That Wednesday night the Orange were finally supposed to lose.

Instead, Ennis kept making everything, from free throws to last-second 35-foot floaters, with the clock ticking down and the game on the line. And Boeheim’s team kept winning.

How better to describe the 24-0 Syracuse Orange? “Supposed to” does not apply.

Video: Why Syracuse plays zone defense

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
11:00
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Jay Bilas explains why the Syracuse zone has been so effective during Jim Boeheim's tenure with the Orange.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Jim Boeheim was here when John Thompson Jr. closed Manley Field House and here when the doors to the Carrier Dome first opened.

He is the building’s unofficial historian, curator even, the guy who knows not every inch of the place but literally what the walls would say if they could talk.

No one else has logged more hours in the building, a daily grind of 34 years and counting.

You could say Boeheim has seen a thing or two in the Dome. He did, after all, coach Pearl Washington here, Derrick Coleman, too, and Carmelo Anthony. This is where he said goodbye to Gerry McNamara’s college career and the Georgetown rivalry.

And yet, when the buzzer sounded on a game that Mike Krzyzewski, another guy who has seen a thing or two, called "epic," even Boeheim was out of words.

“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game in here that I can remember,’’ Boeheim said.

Syracuse beat Duke 91-89 in overtime. That’s the short story. The long version is almost too hard to explain, played as much on guts as talent, with as much intensity as heart. It went an extra five minutes. It still didn’t seem like enough. It was that good.

Rasheed Sulaimon hit a buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime. Rodney Hood missed a one-handed, would-be game-winning dunk that would have been so monstrous had it gone down instead of off the back of the rim, it would rank as a top 10 for the season. C.J. Fair scored 28 on every sort of floater and muscle drive you could conjure. A record 35,446 Orange juiced fans filled the Dome, cheering so loudly that even Seattle Seahawks fans had to be impressed.

That’s a season’s worth of highlights in one game.

"How many people can say they were a part of a game like this?" Krzyzewski said.

[+] EnlargeTyler Roberson and Marshall Plumlee
Rich Barnes/Getty ImagesTyler Roberson of Syracuse dunks past Marshall Plumlee of Duke.
Krzyzewski was so overwhelmed with how the game was played that he refused to talk about how it might have been called. With the shot clock winding down and the game clock not far behind, Hood crossed over and soared to the rim, an aisle suddenly opening wide. The dunk missed at the same time Hood was met at the rim by Rakeem Christmas, who blocked Hood's shot for his sixth rejection of the game.

Krzyzewski wanted a foul. He didn’t get one.

"The game was too good to talk about one play," Krzyzewski said. "I’m not going there at all."

In the immediate scheme of things, the result matters. Duke is in danger of finishing out of the top three in the ACC, and, should North Carolina join the Blue Devils in the fourth-or-worse category, it will mark the first time in league history that neither finished in at least the bronze-medal category.

The Orange, meantime, remain in the hunt for perfection, with a school-record 21-0 mark. Syracuse has the clear path to becoming the ultimate party crasher and could win its first ACC crown in its first try.

But this was bigger than all of that, really.

Mark down the date -- Feb. 1, 2014: College basketball finally won one in the conference-realignment shuffle.

"Great rivalries don’t have to be built on hatred," Krzyzewski said. "They’re built on respect, on a respect for excellence."

Krzyzewski knew it could be this way. Well, maybe not this good exactly, but good. That’s why the only basketball coach who could make anyone listen spoke up. Tired of watching football people rearrange his sport, he essentially led the ACC to its come-to-Naismith moment.

Adding Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame -- and Louisville next season -- surely bolsters the football rosters, but it gives credence to a league that billed itself as basketball first but usually played second fiddle to the Big East.

The truth is, this wasn’t -- and never would be -- Boeheim’s first choice. Given his druthers, the Syracuse coach would still be taking road trips to Washington and Philadelphia, not Winston-Salem, N.C., and Raleigh, N.C.

Everything would be the same as it always was, as good as it always was.

Both he and his program built their reputations on the backbone of the Big East, and if he didn’t go to the ACC kicking and screaming, he at least went reluctantly, recognizing the business of the decision, even if he questioned its soul. It was hard to watch the Big East die, harder still to know his school helped pull the plug.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsTyler Ennis, No. 11, celebrates Saturday's victory with teammate Jerami Grant.
But Boeheim has also been around this business long enough to be a realist. Nothing lasts -- not conferences or rivalries, but, usually, something comes along to replace them.

There is no more Missouri-Kansas, no more Georgetown-Syracuse. But now, we have Syracuse-Duke.

If this is how it’s going to be, well, feel free to bring on more.

"I feel like this rivalry has been going on for 30 years and it’s only the first one," Fair said.

It probably felt like that because the buildup was weeks in the making. Students started camping out 12 days ago in Boeheimburg, which, thanks to occasional sub-zero temperatures, is a touch less trying than hanging out in Krzyzewskiville in Durham, N.C.

Town buses streamed "Beat Duke" across their fronts, and another sign, "Go SU, beat Duke," served as the departing shot for travelers exiting the airport.

Syracuse even pulled out its trump card, getting Vanessa Williams, Class of ‘85, to sing the national anthem.

Not even the last game against Georgetown, for all its history and nostalgia, could match the first game against Duke.

"If you paid $2,400 for a courtside seat, it was money well spent," Boeheim said. "And if you sold your tickets, well, you should be ashamed because you made money but you missed out on an epic."

And now for the kicker.

We get to do this all over again.

On Feb. 22, Syracuse travels to Duke, which will be a slightly more intimate, no less frenzied atmosphere.

"It’s going to be a ridiculous game," Tyler Ennis said. "They fought us for 40 minutes plus, so we’ve got to be ready to come into their home."

Asked if it could match this one, Ennis paused and smiled.

"I’m not sure about that," he said.

Neither is Jim Boeheim.

Video: Legends talk friendship

February, 1, 2014
Feb 1
1:00
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videoCoaches Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski sit down with Rece Davis to talk about their friendship and longevity before Duke's first clash with Syracuse as ACC rivals.

Syracuse is America's best team

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
9:20
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It’s not difficult to identify the strengths that make Syracuse such a stalwart contender.

Its elite playmakers -- Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant -- could all be millionaires in a few months. Its bench is packed with capable reserves.

Syracuse is long and athletic. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone pushes opponents to the court’s margins, disguising the pockets of space as gaps while luring them into traps. They flood the lane.

Analytic stats, which allows one to label the effectiveness and potential of teams better than at any time in college basketball history, love the Orange.

Entering the weekend, the Orange had allowed just 25.0 PPG in the paint according to ESPN Stats & Information, third-fewest among power conference schools. They also possessed the ACC’s top offensive rebounding rate (41 percent) and its best defensive turnover percentage (Syracuse had forced turnovers on one-quarter of its opponents’ possessions in its first 17 games).

The polls love the Orange (second in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls). Ken Pomeroy’s module loves the Cuse (No. 2 overall on KenPom.com), too.

[+] EnlargeEnnis
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has maturity and savvy that belies his youth.
The only mark against Syracuse is a strength of schedule that’s 14th among the BPI’s top-15 squads (91st).

That collection of numbers did not mean much to Boeheim as his team lost its lead during a 59-54 win over Pittsburgh in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

Lamar Patterson missed five of his first seven shots but put up a few miracle 3-pointers in the second half that killed the vibe. His second clutch 3 put Pitt ahead with 6:02 to play.

Those shots allowed Syracuse's lofty numbers to be pushed aside for the oft-referenced -- and cliché -- eye test.

Everything we really needed to know about Syracuse was reaffirmed against the Panthers in the final minutes.

It wasn’t the team’s first bout with drama this season, as Syracuse encountered turbulence against Miami, Boston College and even St. Francis (N.Y.). But those were nothing compared to what beset the Orange on Saturday.

Pitt was roaring rapidly, as the Panthers nibbled away at a 10-point deficit in the second half that seemed like 30 in a low-scoring affair before taking the lead on Patterson's second 3-pointer.

That's when Ennis emerged.

There were his two layups that ultimately put Cuse ahead by three points with 32 seconds to play. His late free throws essentially sealed it.

He’s a freshman with a veteran’s vision, an assertive leader. He doesn’t panic -- he just goes.

The common theme among last year’s Final Four teams was their trustworthy point guards. Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Malcolm Armstead and Peyton Siva were critical players in their respective squads’ runs to Atlanta.

Ennis has that DNA, too.

In a significant league matchup, he belied his age with his effectiveness and poise, and did it with the game on the line.

Grant is a pro. He’s relentless on both ends of the floor, as his jump shot kicked off a 12-4 run that gave Syracuse temporary separation in the second half.

Fair finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 40 minutes. Trevor Cooney secured a rebound off Cameron Wright's missed 3-pointer prior to Ennis’ crucial layup.

The Orange's defense picked up, too. That last 3-pointer by Patterson was his last field goal of the game, as he missed his final three shots due in large part to Syracuse's suffocating defense.

Boeheim has everything for an ACC and national title run.

Syracuse’s numbers were strong on Saturday. It shot 51 percent from the field and held Pitt to 38 percent shooting.

In the process, the Orange proved that they're a legitimate national title contender again and the team to beat in the ACC. Not simply because of what the stat sheet says but also based on the manner in which they closed the game.

Syracuse’s ACC slate will offer additional tests in the near future. There’s a highly anticipated game against Duke on Feb. 1. The Orange will travel to Pitt (Feb. 12) and Duke (Feb. 22) next month, and a road game at Virginia on March 1 should also be a challenge.

But on Saturday, Syracuse certainly passed the eye test.

Its grade? A. As in “America’s best team.”

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