Syracuse and Michigan among the big names in the Sweet 16

VINCENT DAVIS | 3/25/2021, midnight
With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 set for this weekend, the Syracuse University Orange is the only remaining ...
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim Bill Moore photo

With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 set for this weekend, the Syracuse University Orange is the only remaining local area or New York State program still standing. Five teams received bids to the single-elimination postseason tourney. The Iona Gaels, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights, the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Hartford University Hawks have all been dismissed.

Among that group, only Rutgers moved beyond the opening round. After defeating Clemson, 60-58, the Scarlet Knights squandered a late game lead and lost to the University of Houston in the second round on Sunday by 63-60. Syracuse entered the tournament as a team with a questionable resume. They were 18-9 overall and finished eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-7.

Syracuse was seeded 11th in the Midwest region by the selection committee and wasn’t expected by most pundits to last long. The players and the Orange’s longtime head coach, Jim Boeheim, had other intentions. They defeated sixth seed San Diego State, 78-62, in Round 1 last Friday and then topped third seed West Virginia by 75-72 on Sunday to make it to the tournament’s second weekend.

Boeheim, who played at Syracuse from 1963 to 1966, became an assistant at the school in 1969 before moving up to head coach in 1976, has had stars such as the late Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman and Carmelo Anthony. Yet this squad is anchored by his son, Buddy Boeheim, who many thought didn’t possess the ability to excel at the highest levels of college basketball coming out of high school.

The young Boeheim has proved his critics wrong. The 6-foot-6 junior guard is one of the most lethal shooters in the country. He scored 30 points against West Virginia and followed that up with 25 versus West Virginia, including 25 in the second half.

“If you were to ask me a month or two months ago, where I think we would be, I don’t think I would say Sweet 16, that’s for sure,” said Buddy Boeheim. With two upsets facing higher seeds, Syracuse will again have to play up as they face the No. 2 seed Houston Cougars this Saturday night.

Among the eight games on the Sweet 16 schedule this weekend are the Big East regular season champion Villanova Wildcats (No. 5) taking on the South Region’s No. 1 seeded Baylor Bears on Saturday (5:15 p.m. tipoff). Sunday will have the East Region’s No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines, coached by Michigan alumnus and two-time NBA champion Juwan Howard, matching up against the No. 4 seed Florida State Seminoles (5 p.m.).

Howard and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton are the only two Black head coaches whose teams are still playing. Hamilton is a three-time ACC Coach of the Year and led the Seminoles to the Elite Eight in 2018.

Howard, who played for Michigan from 1991-1994, the team famously nicknamed the Fab Five, spent 18 years in the NBA as a player and then was an assistant coach from 2013 to 2019 with the Miami Heat before being hired by his alma mater in May 2019.

The 48-year-old from Chicago has had early success, guiding Michigan to the 2021 Big Ten regular season championship, and earning the 2021 Sporting News Coach of the Year, the 2021 Big Ten Coach of the Year, and the 2021 Sports Illustrated Coach of the Year awards.