With double-bye locked up, Syracuse takes time to prepare for Big East tournament

first_imgIn the locker room before Syracuse’s season finale against Louisville, head coach Quentin Hillsman only needed to write one thing on the board to motivate his team: “Win.”With a victory, the Orange would take the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament and lock up a double-bye. A loss would leave SU fifth in the conference, playing on Saturday instead of Sunday.“Obviously, we knew coming into this game what this meant,” Hillsman said. “This meant third place, and our kids really played with some urgency and we were extremely tired coming out of that last game that we just played.”The Louisville win gave the No. 24 Orange (23-6, 11-5 Big East) a bye into the BigEast tournament quarterfinals Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Villanova will face the winner of Friday’s Georgetown-Providence game on Saturday, and the winner of Saturday’s game will move on to face SU.Health hasn’t been an issue for Syracuse – something that continues to surprise Hillsman – but exhaustion has. The Orange’s last four games featured a pair of tests against ranked teams and another pair of matchups with likely NCAA Tournament teams, including a triple-overtime tilt with Villanova.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSU players agreed with the importance of the double-bye. The past weeks have been more than just physically exhausting.“Physically, mentally, emotionally,” SU guard Carmen Tyson-Thomas said, listing the types of exhaustion that have set in. “Got some schoolwork to catch up on.”The only other time Hillsman has had a team this healthy, he said, was the last time he guided the Orange to the NCAA Tournament. In 2008, Hillsman’s second season with the Orange, Syracuse capped off a 22-9 season with a trip to the tourney. That year, only five players started games for SU, and all five started 31 games.But this year’s extra rest could help SU make a deeper run. Syracuse ended the 2007-08 season with back-to-back losses, first in the opening round of the Big East tournament, then in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But the extra day of rest should make a difference.“To earn a double-bye is tremendous for our program, and we need rest,” Hillsman said, “so it’s good to not have to play until Sunday.”No matter what happens in the Big East tournament, the Orange appears poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. Even Hillsman was willing to admit it after SU’s win over then-No. 13 Louisville.Though the goal is finally in sight and almost tangible, center Kayla Alexander is still reluctant to look that far ahead and admit her team is heading toward its goal of a tournament berth. It’s a mindset that could help Syracuse as postseason play kicks off on Sunday.“It’s good to have in sights, but when we’re there playing, then I’ll be like, ‘We’re there,’” Alexander said. “That’s when I’ll be like, ‘We accomplished our goal.’ Until then? One game at a time.”With six days off before the Orange’s next game action, Syracuse has time to prepare —there’s no need to rush. SU is likely to face Villanova for a third time in the Big East tournament.Last time, it was a marathon. The time before, an upset. So it’s time to prepare. Time for Syracuse to get ready for “grind time,” as Tyson-Thomas puts it. This year’s team may not have the injuries of past seasons, but that doesn’t mean the next weeks will be easy.“We’re off the next four days,” Hillsman said before an extended pause. “I’m just kidding.”Laughter ensued. Even during a stressful part of the season, Hillsman and the Orange stay loose.“Definitely going to take some time off tomorrow and start preparing some things for the tournament,” Hillsman said, “but we need the rest. We really do.” Comments Related Stories Syracuse’s seniors get win of careers against No. 13 Louisville in final home gameSyracuse rides 2nd-half run past No. 13 Louisville in season finale Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on March 7, 2013 at 1:14 am Contact David: dbwilson@syr.edu | @DBWilson2last_img read more

‘The big leagues’: Looking back at SU’s 5 years in the ACC

first_img“He hates NC State,” Hunt said. “Every time we play them it’s, ‘This one’s for you coach.’”After the game, the Orange’s first ACC win — the Orange bested the Wolfpack 24-10 — Hunt and his teammates handed Hicks the game ball. He was in tears.SU field hockey had a similar moment of glory, this time on the biggest stage. Manley said she, former goalkeeper Jess Jecko and Emma Russell had discussed winning a championship since freshman year. In Manley’s freshman year playing in the Big East, SU played UNC in the nonconference. The Tar Heels, a fast-paced team that always seemed to hover at the top, was her first peek at an ACC opponent, and the Orange found themselves a target.Three years later, after years playing in the snow for practice, Manley, Jecko and her teammates all fought smirks as the clock dwindled down from 30 seconds on a “below freezing,” Manley said, Nov. 22 day. The Orange defeated UNC, 4-2, for the national championship, toppling a program it had targeted years earlier. Manley and Jecko dropped to the ground and cried, their dream realized.Katherine Sotelo | Staff PhotographerRoos Weers (left) and Lies Lagerweij hold up head coach Ange Bradley after winning the national championship.Throughout five years in the ACC, SU’s tenure is highlighted by shining moments — more recently, SU football’s wins over defending national champion Clemson in 2017 and Virginia Tech in 2016.As Cooney recollects his time, he can’t help but think back to that charge call. His best ACC moment was beating Duke at Cameron Indoor the following year. The sting of the loss set the tone for the games ahead, and the game was the beginning of something greater.Five years into the tenure, Gross looks ahead five more.“I think there’s a beautiful platform there to be terrific,” Gross said. “In five years, they should be looking pretty good.”CLARIFICATION: The $25.3 million dollar conference payout by the ACC in 2017 was reported by Syracuse.com CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Darryl Dockery was missnamed. The Daily Orange regrets this error.  UPDATED: Aug. 27, 2018 at 7:05 p.m.A split second before one of the most infamous moments in Syracuse history, Trevor Cooney hopped. The then-redshirt sophomore slipped into the corner and followed the play as CJ Fair made a quick move toward the baseline in the final seconds against Duke on Feb. 22, 2014.“It all happened so fast,” Cooney said.As Cooney settled in the corner, Fair rose up, and with his right hand, put the shot in. Fair’s momentum carried him into Cooney’s chest. Without realizing the whistle that had signaled a charge, called off the basket and sent SU head coach Jim Boeheim into a frenzy, Cooney had instinctively begun a celebration that would be cut off almost immediately.The Duke fans screamed in response to the call. Cooney — who had spent two seasons as a member of a Syracuse Big East squad— was now firmly in the thick of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. Leaving behind the history and tradition of the Big East following SU’s move in 2013 was not easy. It even bothered SU’s then-athletics director Daryl Gross.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSince the move, Syracuse athletic teams have won two national championships (field hockey and men’s cross country), 13 team ACC championships and 17 individual ACC championships. The men’s basketball team has made three trips to the Sweet 16, with two of the trips ending in the Final Four (2014 and 2016). SU received a school-record $25.3 million conference payout by the ACC in 2017, per Syracuse.com.Still, Cooney wonders if Fair’s play was a block or a charge. He still watches the play now and realizes it could have easily gone the other way. The Orange were in the midst of a record-breaking season where they began 25-0. A win at Cameron Indoor Stadium could have swept the season series against the historic Duke team in SU’s first year in the new conference.In the Big East, the Orange played many of their games in NBA arenas, Cooney said. But in Cameron Indoor, he said the on-campus environment elevates the game.After realizing the impact of the play, Cooney walked back with his hands help atop his head. Suddenly, it all felt real.“We’re leaving a really good conference to go to another really good conference,” Cooney said. “Nothing changed.”Daily Orange File PhotoFormer Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas blocks a shot during a game against Duke in 2014.‘Crumbling Island’In 2005, the Big East expanded to 16 teams following a mass college-basketball conference realignment. Questions immediately emerged about its sustainability due to the lack of a TV contract, former SU athletics director Daryl Gross said.Gross listened to phone calls inquiring about SU’s future conference home. An offer from the Big 10 was on the table for SU, and the Big 12’s new media deal paved the way for negotiations within the Big East. The Big East made an offer that Gross was ready to accept.“It could have been the power-six,” Gross said referring to the famed Power Five structure.But underlying problems within the Big 12’s reported deal caused the Big East’s plans to fizzle. Gross said the Big 12’s reported figure for its conference TV deal included the individual media deals from the schools within the conference, which significantly raised the value of the agreement. When Big East teams tried to hold out, the conference slowly pulled away. To understand the financial aspects of the deal, Gross would frequently talk on the phone with current SU athletics director John Wildhack — then an ESPN executive with an expansive knowledge of media deals.But the Big East had history and tradition Syracuse was leaving behind. A move would be for money. “Let’s be honest,” former SU lineman Omari Palmer said. “It was 100 percent about money.”“That, to me, was a really challenging time. Because most people wouldn’t understand the move,” Gross said. “Breaking up tradition like that is never something that someone wants to see.”“Do you stay here on this crumbling island?” Gross added.SU had to do what was right: for the business, for sustainability, for the future of SU Athletics.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorIn late 2011, Gross received a call from ACC executives. A board meeting would take place in Beverly Hills, California, that weekend. The school could vote on and declare its intentions to move conferences. The whole process took just one week, two weeks tops, Gross said.Gross maintains that the move was the right decision, and staying put would have been “horrendous.” The Big East wasn’t the same — West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Rutgers and Connecticut all eventually followed Syracuse out.Gross brought up Connecticut as an example. A strong program before the realignment, going to the American Athletic Conference was a far less lucrative move than Syracuse’s move to the ACC and didn’t provide the same financial boost. Following the move, Syracuse increased operational budgets, coaching salaries and its academic profile. Palmer said transport and hotels for away games improved.“We were built for championships,” Gross said, “but now this gives us an even better chance.”Learning to competeCharlottesville, Virginia; Durham, North Carolina; Tallahassee, Florida. Suddenly, Syracuse was thrust into a conference which had something it always lacked: warm weather.“I don’t think it’s ever easy to bring someone up to Syracuse,” Palmer said. “You have these kids from Syracuse who’ve never seen snow, and when you come to Syracuse, you’re going to see a lot of snow.”The Orange sold players on the idea of traveling to southern states to play. Indoor practice facilities like Ensley Athletic Center allowed more development in temperature controlled areas, but former SU field hockey player Alyssa Manley said some of the field hockey practices are in the snow.To compete in recruiting, former SU quarterback Terrell Hunt said the Orange embraced a bit of an underdog role. If players came to Syracuse, despite playing in the ACC, there would be an opportunity to play. Manley said the Orange did best when the recruits came and met the team.SU athletes were now Power Five athletes. Hunt remembers one phone conversation with his step dad, Darryl Dockery. Due to distance, it was difficult for Dockery to watch Hunt play.“Hey, how would it sound if you could watch more of me on national TV?” Hunt remembered he asked.“That would be great,” Dockery responded.“Well, we’re moving to the ACC.”On Oct. 12, a cold and rainy day, the conditions didn’t give Hunt much to work with against NC State. His throws were off, and the rain seemingly never stopped. Still, the Orange found success through the running game.Will Hicks, SU football’s former strength and conditioning coach and current executive coordinator of the Varsity Club and athletic alumni engagement, is a graduate of NC State and worked there for 10 years after leaving school. Hicks thought the Wolfpack would give him a new job, Hunt recalled. They didn’t. Published on August 26, 2018 at 11:26 pm Contact Michael: mmcclear@syr.edu | @MikeJMcClearycenter_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more