UNC-Asheville On The Brink Of History

'David' almost took down this 'Goliath' on Thursday

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Could No. 1 Syracuse, who had a regular season record of 32-2, really fall to No. 16 ranked UNC Asheville? Could a No. 16 seed really win a game in the tournament for the first time ever?

Asheville lead at the half by two points, but that had to just be a slow start for Syracuse, right?

Well, with just 6 minutes left in the game, Asheville was still on top. This had the entire basketball world on red alert. This might be the year the infamous 16 over 1 upset was finally pulled off. But with just a couple minutes left in the game the Orange gathered their troops and finally dialed in the long ball that had been eluding them all game to squeeze out a 72-65 victory over UNC Asheville.

The problems with Syracuse’s offense started with a stilted offensive flow that was eager to take first-available shots, and struggled for any type of cutting without the ball. This poor passing was not rewarded with 3-point bailout shots as the Orange went 5-23 from deep. James Southerland was the one shining point for the Orange who more than doubled his season average to drop in 15 points and 8 rebounds, with many of these points coming with just minutes to go in the game.

Key factors that lead to such a poor Syracuse performance were that center Fab Melo who averaged 7.8 points per game and 5.8 rebounds was declared academically ineligible and will be unable to play the entire post season. Syracuse head coach Boeheim remained indignant to Melo’s absence, stating after the game “The fact that this game was close had nothing – nothing – to do with the center position.”

Boeheim might not want to admit it, but Melo’s absence did play a part in Syracuse’s close call.

The other key factor down the stretch were the officials.  The NCAA better make sure no bank transfers from up-state NY make their way to any of the officials. There were a couple of extremely questionable calls late in the game that benefited the Orange at the most critical of points.

The first questionable call came with 1:20 left on the clock when UNC-Asheville's J.P. Primm was called for a lane violation on the front end of Scoop Jardine’s 1-and-1. Jardine had missed the shot and it would have given Asheville possession with the opportunity to pull within 1 point. Instead, Jardine was given a second chance and converted both shots to give Syracuse a 64-58 lead.

The second questionable call came with just 35 seconds left in the game when the ball went out of bounds, clearly off Syracuse’s Brandon Triche. Unfortunately, the officials didn’t see it that way, and handed the ball back to Syracuse. Replay clearly showed Triche hitting the ball last, showing the blown call to the rest of the arena, which responded in a tremendous outburst of boos.

It is always unfortunate when officials play such a critical role in the conclusion of a game, especially on questionable calls. History says though that Syracuse fans better plan for a short tournament.

Stat of the night: eleven of the previous No. 1 seeds to only win their first tournament game by single digits exited in their very next game.

Prediction for round 2 in the East is Kansas State over Syracuse. Call your bookie now because history tells us it’s a done deal.

Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS