Connecticut proved last season that anything can, and usually does happen, when the goliath Big East Conference gathers in New York City for its annual tournament.
The Huskies became the first team to win five games in five days, going from a No. 9 seed to the title with a remarkable run that kept going all the way to a national championship.
This season, UConn is again lurking as a No. 9 seed and must play on opening day again versus No. 16 DePaul when the tournament gets under way today. Nobody is expecting a repeat because the Huskies have been inconsistent this season. But the Big East Tournament has had a tendency of producing upsets and being unkind to top seeds over the last decade.
In fact, the No. 1 seed has won the championship only twice in the last 10 years. Louisville did it in 2009 and Georgetown in 2007.
Syracuse preceded Connecticut as the only No. 9 seed to claim a title, back in 2006 during the Gerry McNamara-led miracle run. Pittsburgh was seeded only seventh when it won in 2008, West Virginia won as a No. 3 seed in 2009, and SU was seeded third when it won the 2005 title.
All of this may not auger well for the Orange this season as it heads into the 2012 tournament as the top seed and will not play until Thursdays noon quarterfinals against either No. 8 West Virginia or the Connecticut/DePaul winner.
The only thing the higher seeds give you is a little extra rest, said SU coach Jim Boeheim, whose 2009-10 club was also seeded first but fell to No. 8 Georgetown in the quarterfinals. Personally, Id like only one bye instead of two. But thats the way it is, and youve got to prepare to play well whenever you play, be it Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
The top seed has lost in the quarterfinals three of the last four years, which means the Orange should be on upset alert come Thursday. But the players realize that now its one and done, and you cant take anything for granted.
Look at our last six or seven games, said SU senior guard Scoop Jardine. We probably could have lost at least four or five, but we found a way to win them all. Thats all you care about is winning at this point of the season. Style points get you nothing.
SUs domination of the regular season, equalling the 1995-96 Ray Allen-led Connecticut team for best record ever, meant the Orange played the best during a grueling two-month stretch. But will that translate into a long postseason run beginning Thursday?
Personally, I love their chances of going all the way to the NCAA Championship, said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose Wildcats are the No. 14 seed and take on No. 11 Rutgers in todays opening round. Its no fluke when you dominate a league as tough as ours like they did. We all expect to have those four or five games where you either play poorly or the opponent plays great. Syracuse didnt allow that to happen, and thats a credit to their balance and depth. Jim (Boeheim) has done a tremendous job of keeping them focused on every game.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, whose club has been either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament the past four seasons, said expectations can sometimes exceed reality.
We knew we were a good team capable of winning those years, Dixon said. But we also knew that six or seven other teams were right there, and if we stumbled for just a second, wed lose. Our league may not have been as strong at the top this year, but our depth is incredible. When youve got us, Villanova and Connecticut playing the first day, you know how competitive it is.
The perennial power teams like UConn, Pitt and Villanova probably dont have what it takes to go all the way this time. But upstarts like No. 4 Cincinnati, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 6 South Florida believe they can win it all.
When youre as competitive as we have been this year, you believe you can be right there at the end, said South Florida coach Stan Heath. In the past, we knew when we came to New York we wouldnt be here long. But this time, were packing for three or four days.
Joseph, Melo Honored
It was a big day of honors for Syracuse as the Big East Conference announced several of its major awards.
Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph was named to the All-Big East first team as chosen by the league coaches.
Orange sophomore center Fab Melo was named the Defensive Player of the Year, while sophomore guard Dion Waiters was chosen the Sixth Man of the Year.
In addition, SU senior Scoop Jardine made the All-Big East second team and Waiters was selected for the third team.
Joseph averaged 14.1 points and five rebounds for the 30-1 Orange, helping them to a 17-1 record and the regular-season title.
Seniors Jae Crowder, the only unanimous selection, and Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette were two of six players named to the first team. The other first-team selections are: sophomore Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut, the only non-senior, Jason Clark of Georgetown and Kevin Jones of West Virginia.
The Big East Player of the Year will come from the first team and be announced today.
Jardine was joined on the second team by senior Jordan Theodore of Seton Hall, juniors Malik Wayns of Villanova and Jack Cooley of Notre Dame and sophomore Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati.
Although he didnt start a game this season, SUs Waiters made the third team. Senior Henry Sims of Georgetown, senior Herb Pope of Seton Hall, senior Darryl Bryant of West Virginia and junior Vincent Council from Providence round out the team.
St. Johns teammates DAngelo Harrison and Moe Harkless led the all-rookie team, which also included Andre Drummond of Connecticut, Chane Behanan of Louisville, Jerian Grant of Notre Dame, Providences Ledontae Hinton and Anthony Collins of South Florida.
Melo led the Big East in blocked shots in league play with a 3.7 average and also averaged 6.1 rebounds. He is the second straight SU winner of the defensive player award, succeeding Rick Jackson.
The first player off the SU bench, the 6-4 Waiters is the teams second leading scorer, averaging 11.9 points. He also leads the team in steals with a 1.9 average.
Cooley won the Most Improved Player award, while Georgetowns Jason Clark won the Sportsmanship Award.