2010 Syracuse basketball regular season recap: Unranked to No. 1

Unranked to number one.

Those four words accurately capture what was a special season for Syracuse basketball. Syracuse was mostly written off by coaches and experts alike at the beginning of the season with the loss of four key contributors in the offseason. Syracuse began the season at No. 25 in the coaches poll and unranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

After all, it was hard to blame people from the college basketball world. Syracuse rode to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004 last year, but the losses of Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn figured to cripple what was formally a potent offense. Syracuse was picked to finish sixth in the Big East and other than Arinze Onuaku (who received a preseason Big East Honorable Mention) not a single Orange player received any recognition.

In spite of all of that, the Orange regrouped.

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Onuaku consistently powers Syracuse

If there was an out-of-sport comparison for Syracuse senior Arinze Onuaku, it would have to be Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees closer.

Rivera has been throwing his patent cutter for more than 10 years now. Opponents know the pitch is coming, yet there is nothing they can do about it. It’s predicable and reliable, and has allowed Rivera to become one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation.

Like Rivera, Onuaku has his own bread-and-butter move. First, he’ll use his 260-pound frame to establish position inside. Then, he’ll use either use a drop step or a spin move to set up a baby hook with either hand.

And, like Rivera, when Onuaku goes to his proven technique, his opponent is left helpless.

“He gets deep position,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “When he’s making the left-hand jump-hook from 8 feet over a 7-foot guy, I don’t know what else we can do, quite frankly.”

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2000s Syracuse All Decade Team

This was the decade of Syracuse basketball. The team captured its first National Championship while producing nine NBA players and 12 All Big East players. Here are the best of the decade:

HONORABLE MENTION
Kueth Duany: A veteran presence in a year when Syracuse sorely lacked it, Duany averaged 11 points and 3.7 rebounds his senior year as Syracuse won the National Championship.

DeShaun Williams: There was no questioning Williams’ ability to score as his 15.9 points was good enough to be named to the Big East Third Team. However, Williams’ off-the-court problems and his inability to stay academically eligible led to him transferring to Iona following the 2001-02 season.

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Top 10 Syracuse stories from the past decade

What a decade it’s been for the Syracuse Orange. Through the past ten years, Orange fans have had its fair share of triumph and disappointment. But one thing is clear – being a Syracuse fan has never been dull. Here are the top ten stories from the past ten years.

NUMBER 10 – FIRST ROUND UPSETS AND NIT TRIPS

Although some may say that this was the decade for Syracuse basketball because of the 2003 National Championship, Syracuse fell far from grace in the following years.

In the 2004-05 season, the Orange started the season No. 5 in the country and had its eyes fixed firmly toward a trip to the final four. But forward Hakim Warrick’s final game with Syracuse ended on a bitter note as No. 4 seed Syracuse was upset by No. 13 Vermont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It would start a string of four dark years for Syracuse, as it failed to advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The following year, No. 5 Syracuse was upset by No. 12 Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The next two seasons, Syracuse failed to qualify for the dance, as the Orange were banished to two consecutive NIT bids.

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Top 5 Syracuse moments from 2009

Syracuse provided no shortage of headlines in 2009. From Syracuse’s dazzling six overtime victory over Connecticut in the Big East tournament to the upheaval in the Orange football program, it has been an eventful year for the Orange faithful. Here are the top 5 story lines from the year:

SIX IN THE CITY

There were nine players on the floor tugging at their shorts, trying to keep from cramping as Syracuse and Connecticut were playing their six overtime in what will surely be remembered as the greatest college basketball game of the decade.

Then, there was Justin Thomas, a Syracuse walk on, doing jumping jacks while playing the seven most important minutes of his life.

Syracuse (then-No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) had so few options at the end of their 127-117 victory over Connecticut (then-No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East tournament that Thomas, who had only played nine games that entire season, was inserted into the game.

Thomas would go on to grab a key rebound as Syracuse outlasted Connecticut.

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Triche eases into starting role

Louis Dale was helpless.

The 2007-08 Ivy League Player of the Year and Honorable Mention All-American feebly chased Syracuse guard Brandon Triche as the true freshman barreled down the lane toward the hoop at the Jim Boeheim Court.

With a step on Dale, Triche was met in the lane by 2008-09 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Foote, a towering 7-foot, 265 pound center along with another Cornell defender. Triche split the help and, while reducing the rest of the Big Red to spectators, gracefully kissed the ball off the backboard and through the basket while drawing contact from Dale for a conventional 3-point play.

Dale, a senior, could only throw his hands up in disgust as Triche added three of his team-high 21 points that night en route to a 88-73 victory on Nov. 24. What was more frustrating for Dale was that with Triche manning the top of the Syracuse 2-3 zone, Dale was held to just three points on 1-for-6 shooting and five turnovers.

“One of the main focal points of my game was just being strong,” Triche said. “I work out every day just to be that way.”

Syracuse fans, meet your new starting point guard.

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Rautins becomes more than just a shooter

The Syracuse faithful inside the Carrier Dome were stunned.

Their beloved Orange, who was ranked No. 14 in the country, was being tracked down by Coppin State – who was 1-7 at the time – late in the second half of a game that should’ve been well in hand at that point.

It was December 28, 2008, a time in Syracuse’s schedule reserved for blowout victories against inferior opponents. Instead, with 8:35 left, Syracuse clung to a 61-57 lead, and was searching desperately for any kind of spark.

And that is when junior guard Andy Rautins took over.

Over the next three minutes, Rautins would carry the Orange with three 3-pointers, and with 5:38 remaining, the Orange had established a 72-59 lead en route to an 82-71 win. All was safe, except for Gerry McNamara’s all-time school record for three point goals in a game.

McNamara now had company on top of that list as Rautins finished with 29 points on 9-of-16 from downtown, tying McNamara’s record that was set against BYU in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2004.

“That’s great company,” Rautins said. “[McNamara] was a legend here.”

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