A query in the SU-Cal gamethread on TNIAAM got me thinking, and a bit of research at OrangeHoops confirmed what I hazily remembered. Syracuse and UNC have not met on the basketball court since the 1987 NCAA Tournament, when the #2-seeded Orangemen edged past the #1-seeded Tarheels of J. R Reid and Kenny “The Jet” Smith in the regional finals to earn the trip to New Orleans. Though the main man in orange that night was Rony Seikaly, SU got a solid contribution of 10 points and 6 rebounds from senior forward Howard Triche. Apparently UNC will only play us when we have a Triche on the floor. Or perhaps they have been waiting to exact their revenge until they could make it personal.
That game was played in March of 1987. The only current SU player who was even alive when that game took place is Andy Rautins, who was born in 1986 (of course). So the current players probably don’t give more than half a crap about that game. But I bet there are all manner of UNC fans who, even with all the success the program has had since, still feel that loss just a little bit. Just like I reflexively grimace when seeing Illinois hoops on TV and will generally root against them (unless they are playing Indiana) for beating us in the Elite Eight in 1989.
But whether or not the players are indifferent, there is also the matter of the coach. Last time we faced a Roy Williams-led squad, we ended their dreams of a title too. The final score was, of course, 81-78. Sure he has won two titles in the six years since that game. But Williams has a little Boeheim-shaped demon in his past that I’m sure he wouldn’t mind exorcising. This might not mean much but at the very least it’ll give ESPN a reason to show 2003 highlights during the game (followed of course by a shot of McNamara on the bench).
In addition to the Triche-iness of the Syracuse squad, there are a couple other fun little parallels going on. UNC’s roster in 1987 contained 8 McDonald’s All-Americans; this season’s team has but seven. I guess it’s a down year. In both games, UNC was/is coached by a man who was/is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The 1987 game was played at the Meadowlands, which is not MSG of course but is still in the NYC metropolitan area, only about 20 miles from the Garden. SU, then as now, had a senior playing center, a senior sweet-shooting off-guard, and an inexperienced point guard replacing a superstar legend who left the program early and was a first-round NBA draft pick.
SU’s 1987 freshman sensation Derrick Coleman (who had 14 boards in the UNC game) would go on to be drafted #1 overall by the New Jersey Nets who played at: the Meadowlands. From that UNC team, Kenny Smith was drafted by the Kings and went on to play 10 years in the NBA, finishing his career with the Nuggets, who would later draft Carmelo Anthony who beat Roy Williams in New Orleans in 2003. Since Carmelo’s arrival, Nuggets games have routinely been a favorite choice for broadcast by the TNT network, where Kenny Smith is employed as a studio analyst. Smith also spent four years as a color commentator for the Knicks, who play their games at Madison Square Garden and televise them on the MSG network. Also currently employed by TNT as a play-by-play announcer is Marv Albert, who for many years did the play-by-play for Knicks games on MSG and who is, of course, an alumnus of Syracuse. Marv finished his SU career in 1963, the same year that Jim Boeheim matriculated as a freshman. Dean Smith had begun his coaching career at UNC two years earlier. Roy Williams became involved in the UNC basketball program (as a student volunteer) in 1969, the same year Boeheim joined the coaching staff at Syracuse. Playing for Smith at UNC at the time was George Karl, who was originally drafted by the Knicks and is the current coach of Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets. Also on the Nuggets last season was former SU point guard Jason Hart, cousin of Howard and Brandon Triche.
Though there have been no basketball games between the two schools since 1987, SU and UNC have met in football a few times over the years. (I prevailed upon the hospitality of a former college roommate whose wife was a UNC grad student to get myself into their stadium in 2003 for an exciting triple-overtime affair, won by SU in dramatic fashion.) The 2009 UNC football team includes, at quarterback… Mike Paulus, whose brother has faced the Tar Heels on the basketball court many times over the years.
I feel like I need Glenn Beck and his chalkboard to explain to me all the insidious connections that are going on here. I guess I will have to settle for Bobby Knight (hey there’s 1987 again) and a Telestrator.
Separate question: do you think there will be more SU fans at the Garden when we play #4 UNC in basketball than there were at the Dome when we faced #5 Cincinnati in football?