This is March?
No, this is the closest thing to it, though.
After watching that highlight above, how ready are you for the greatest month in sports?
Syracuse senior John Gillon gave the longtime SU faithful a serious Pearl Washington flashback on Wednesday night as his hurried, leaning-in, racing, desperate 3-point attempt banked true at the horn to give Syracuse a triumphant, dramatic, come-from-behind win. The sequence felt so much like Washington famously did -- only from much further out -- more than 30 years ago. How appropriate that Gillon needed to cross over Pearl’s “31” that is emblazoned at half court.
Syracuse 78, Duke 75. One of the defining images of the season to date.
The moment immediately puts Gillon forever into Syracuse lore. Jim Boeheim has (unofficially) won more than 1,000 games in his career, and this one has to be in the upper echelon with the most incredible, given the urgency behind the game and Syracuse’s season feeling like it needed to get this win in order to keep upright. Here were these two epic programs going back and forth. It felt appropriate to have it decided on a final shot.
Plus, the victory is better for the ACC. It gives Syracuse a massively needed break, a win that has Orange fans believing they’re definitely headed to the Big Dance. Even Dick Vitale was lost in the moment, eager to proclaim on the air -- as Cuse students herded to the hardwood -- that beating top-10 Duke equated to lock status for SU.
But I have to pump the brakes on that.
You’re almost there, Syracuse fans. But SU is not a lock. As a reminder for eager loyalists of bubble teams, NCAA Tournament locks can only be defined as such: If you can literally afford to lose every single remaining game on your schedule and still unquestionably be considered in the NCAA Tournament field, you’re a lock.
My colleague, Jerry Palm, emphatically agrees. You’ll notice he’s the one paid to project the bracket, too.
I do think Syracuse will be in this year’s tournament. I am no longer in need to re-evaluate the world around me when I write that sentence, because even though this team was once 11-9 and a complete afterthought, Boeheim has managed to get his guys, for like the 24th time in the past 13 months, to rally in zombie-like ways.
Yes, beating Virginia, Florida State and Duke are all tremendous wins. But you get dinged for the losses, too, and Syracuse will most likely end up with 14 of them (a loss at Louisville being probable, and then in the ACC tournament). Fourteen is a whole lotta Ls to take with you onto the bubble.
So it’s clear Syracuse still needs more wins. The Orange weren’t in Palm’s bracket to start the day. They were the last team in his first four out. Now, a trip to Dayton is logical placement, I think.
Here’s what remains for Cuse: at Louisville on Sunday, then the regular-season finale at home against Georgia Tech on March 4. From there, the ACC tournament in New York. Win one game, and that could well do it. Win two, and it’s lock city. At this point, there’s no doubting Syracuse, though. The Orange have come back from big gaps in four games in February, losing by as many as nine in the win against Duke, fighting down from eight to beat Clemson, overcoming a 12-point deficit against Virginia, and the insane 16-point blizzard to beat NC State.
If SU hadn’t won on Wednesday night, getting to the NCAAs would have been a much, much harder proposition. I’m not sure any team will acquire a bigger victory this month than the Orange. Syracuse isn’t dancing yet, but come Selection Sunday, I do think we’ll look back and say that Gillon’s winner catapulted Cuse into the field of 68.