Jim Boeheim Has Syracuse Atop The Rankings For The First Time In 20 Years

March 4, 2010 – 9:25 am by Michael Bean

So far so good for college basketball’s latest number one team – the Syracuse Orange. Jim Boeheim’s squad leapfrogged to the top of the rankings earlier this week after dismantling Villanova on Saturday. Of course, Kansas and Kentucky stumbling last weekend paved the way for ‘Cuse’s ascension to the top of the rankings. But irregardless of how what the rankings may indicate, the bottom line is that Syracuse is playing their best basketball at the right time of year. Can the Orange avoid the pitfalls that plagued previous top ranked teams like Texas this weekend when they travel to Freedom Hall to take on Louisville? The Cardinals are desperate for another signature win, and if their last meeting with Syracuse meant anything, Rick Pitino’s squad may just match up better than most against Boeheim’s bunch. Louisville was the last team to beat Syracuse, and they did so on the Orange’s home court in mid-February.

Boeheim joined the Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio New York to talk about how he’s excited for his players and the fans, how he’s not concerned about his team losing its edge mentally now that they’re number one, how the atmosphere at the Carrier Dome last weekend against Villanova was one of the top atmospheres ever in that building, and his thoughts on the upcoming Big East Tournament.

On if it means anything to be ranked #1 this late in the year:

“I think it’s a great thing for our players. The campus, our fans – they’re thrilled about it. Obviously it’s a great accomplishment. We’ve had a pretty good basketball team here, but we haven’t been ranked number one in a long time.  So I think it’s great. It’s a great thing. We held on last night, we kept our focus well, we played pretty well against St. John’s, and now we’ve got to go down to Louisville for the last game at Freedom Hall. That will be really difficult I’m sure, especially since Louisville has already come up here and beaten us.  So we’re trying to focus on that game, but it’s great to be number one. I think it’s a great thing for these players. They’ve worked hard and come a long way, there will be that much expected of them. But they’ve played great, they really have.  They’ve played well together, they’ve been unselfish, and they’ve been consistent which is what you look for as a coach. But they’ve been very consistent.”

On if there’s a concern about his young team allowing the top tanking to distract them mentally:

“No absolutely not. We beat Carolina in the Garden earlier in the year by 20, we went right out and played one of our best games the next game. We beat a really good Cornell team by 15. I just think they’ve been really focused all year long. We came out last night and played well. St. John’s has had some really good wins this year. No, I’m not concerned about that at all. I think that you can lose, and anybody can lose. It’s very possible to lose in college basketball. I don’t think anybody’s immune to that. We’re just so well balanced, there’s so many good teams – quite honestly I’m shocked that we could win 28 games and just lose 2, to go 15-2 in our league – I’m shocked. You know, we had a good team last year, we had a solid team and we were 11-7 in the Big East. I think the league was just a little bit better last year at the top, it’s probably deeper this year, but it was probably a little bit better at the top last year. No, I’m not worried about this team. They’ll go out and play. That said, we could lose. We won a 2 point game at Depaul, and Depaul’s won 1 game in the league. So anything can happen in college basketball. It’s just a crazy game.”

On the crazy atmosphere at the Carrier Dome against Villanova:

“It’s in the top 10 with about 6 or 7 Georgetown games when Patrick [Ewing] was there, and Alonzo Mourning – that era there. There was probably 6 or 7 years when it was crazy. But it was crazy in here. Everybody had a towel, everybody wore orange. When you see people in the endzone of the other end in the third deck watching you play basketball 100 yards away, that’s some form of insanity I think. [laughing]”

On how advantageous he feels getting a double bye in the Big East Tournament will be for his team:

“I think some people would say it’s huge. I’m not so sure. If you look at the facts, last year, three of the teams that had double byes lost. Two on the first day, we beat one of them, Connecticut. The other one lost the next day. Oh, Louisville did win the tournament, but they were clearly the best team in the league last year.  I think it’s a little bit of an advantage…like last year, we were a good team, and we fell in where we had to play that first night, and then we played Connecticut the next night, and they sat around the whole week. I think it was a little advantage, I really do. I think it helps that team. I’ve promoted – I want everybody to play four games, but we haven’t gotten that done yet. I think it’s wrong somebody has to play five games and somebody has to play three. Even though you’ve won the league, I don’t think you should get that big of an advantage. But we’re working on that. For us, it worked out good this year. We get the double bye, but I think that’s a tough game when you sit around all week, then you go out there against a team that’s probably fighting for its life trying to get another win to get into the Tournament. And in reality, in college basketball there’s so little difference between these teams, that if one team has that extra huge motivating factor of like ‘we need to get this win to get into the Tournament’, it makes them a tough team to beat.”

Listen here to Boeheim with Michael Kay on ESPN Radio New York (interview begins at 43 minute mark)

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