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Syracuse basketball ventures into first ACC Tournament

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Jim Boeheim has known from the start of Syracuse’s venture into the Atlantic Coast Conference that the Orange will always be considered “outsiders” along Tobacco Road.

There’s not much the Orange can do to change that perception from the ACC fan base, which is located primarily south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and the media that are just getting used to SU being part of the conference.

As SU heads off to Greensboro, N.C., for its first foray into the storied ACC Tournament this week, it does so with the exciting promise of a new challenge and the knowledge that the Orange, indeed, has already made an impact on the conference.

“You know, I don’t care if they play the tournament on the moon,’’ Boeheim said Monday on the ACC pre-tournament teleconference. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of the tournament like we always do at this time of the year. It’s always important when you play in a tournament that they have a basketball court and an arena. They’ve got that in Greensboro.’’

Boeheim was taken to task last year by ACC people when he reminisced about his team’s final Big East Conference season, saying “I’m sure there’s a couple of Denny’s down there,’’ referring to places to eat in Greensboro. And that the only person who would prefer Greensboro to New York City, longtime site of the Big East Tournament, “would be maybe the mayor of Greensboro.’’

On Monday, when the subject was brought up again, Boeheim reiterated that his team “is absolutely thrilled to be going to Greensboro. I hear it’s a great basketball town. All of the other stuff is just a Northern, not-funny guy trying to make some humorous remarks that people tend to want to take the wrong way. I’m fine, and my players are fine with it. It’s just about basketball. That’s all it’s about.’’

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of Boeheim’s closest friends, said the fact that Boeheim is bringing his Orange “smack into the middle of ACC country is absolutely great for our conference and our fans. We knew when we went after Syracuse that they would bring a great fan base, a great community and great players and coaches into what we think is the best conference in the country. And that what they’ve done so far just proves they truly belong.’’

Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame all moved from the Big East to the ACC this season, looking to make a new mark on the conference after battling each other at Madison Square Garden for more than 30 years at the Big East Conference Tournament.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, whose team is the fifth seed in this year’s ACC Tournament, said his club’s reception by ACC fans has been “terrific. We’ve been able to go to some of the country’s great venues and play some of the best teams in the country.

“ It’s a little bit different feeling than the Big East because we were so familiar with those teams. But there is a real excitement to playing new opponents and in different places.’’

SU heads into the ACC Tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Virginia and ahead of Duke and North Carolina. Boeheim said the Orange has been able to stay near the top of the ACC all year long is a tribute to his players and a goal in its first ACC season.

“We knew it would be just as tough as the Big East, and it was,’’ Boeheim said Monday. “Every game, no matter if it was at home or on the road, was difficult. Heck, we lost to two of the lowest-seeded teams (No. 14 Boston College, No. 11 Georgia Tech) at home, so that tells you how competitive the league is.

“We just need to go there and work at what we’re doing and try to have a good experience to get ready for the following week. That is what everybody is trying to do.’’

Most of the coaches agreed that the tournament is wide open, and they wouldn’t be surprised if a lower-seed team makes it to Sunday’s championship game.

“If you don’t play well, you can lose to anybody,’’ said Virginia’s Tony Bennett, whose Cavaliers fell at No. 8 Maryland in overtime on Sunday. “We know the margin for winning is very thin, and that there are teams out there nobody wants to play.’’

Roy Williams of North Carolina predicted “as wide open a tournament as we’ve had in years. You take any of those teams that are seeded 5-9 (Pittsburgh, Clemson, North Carolina State, Maryland, Florida State) and they are going to give you one heck of a fight.’’

Boeheim said having been through the rigors of the Big East Tournament wars for many years, when you sometimes had to play four games in four nights, “will serve us well this week. We’re going in off a pretty good game (a 74-58 win at Florida State on Sunday), so that’s given us a shot of confidence.’’

Fair, Ennis finalists

Syracuse’s C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis and Duke’s Jabari Parker are among the 15 players named as finalists for the John R. Wooden Player of the Year award.

Syracuse is the only school with two players named to the ballot.

Ennis and Parker are just two of four freshmen on the list, joining Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.

The Wooden Award Player of the Year will be announced on ESPN during the Final Four Weekend in Dallas, Texas.

Here are the other 10 finalists: Kyle Anderson, UCLA; Cleanthony Early, Wichita State; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Nick Johnson, Arizona; Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati; Doug McDermott, Creighton; Shabazz Napier, Connecticut; Casey Prather, Florida; Russ Smith, Louisville; Nik Stauskas, Michigan.

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