Even so, Boeheim can rightfully claim, "We've established ourselves as one of the better teams in the country. We're starting to attract the highly recruited kids like Bouie and freshman Rick Harmon, and we've gotten some big wins outside our area, which is something other Eastern teams haven't been able to do."
But it is home in renovated Manley that Syracuse is toughest. The Orangemen have lost only 27 times there since 1963, and just five since 1971. During the current 33-game streak, Michigan State is the only club to come as close as eight points. "No matter what you hear about the fans or the officials here, the only way you can have a record this good is with talent," says Boeheim.
Iona has neither the tradition nor the resources of Syracuse, but it does have a manic coach and two quality players in Ruland, a 6'9" sophomore, and Glenn Vickers, a 6'3" junior guard. Valvano sold both of them on the challenge of building a program from the bottom, although both had plenty of opportunities to start at the top. "We're the Rocky of college basketball," Valvano says. "It won't be long before we're a hell of a team. But we have to realize that when we play a really good team we can determine the outcome of the game ourselves, instead of sitting back and waiting for our opponent to do it."
There were signs this attitude was developing in the win over Utah State, a Top 20 team last year and a good one this season. Iona built a 13-point lead in the second half, let it slip down to one and then built it right back up. During the Gaels' winning surge, Ruland showed why schools such as Kentucky were drooling over him before he signed with Iona. He intercepted a Utah State pass in his defensive half of the floor, dribbled downcourt, flipped a behind-the-back pass to a teammate on the wing and, upon taking a return toss, dunked the basket that gave the Gaels a 64-55 lead. "Knowing we're supposed to win is a new kind of pressure for us," Valvano says. "It's like putting a bow tie on a pig. You can dress him up, but he doesn't know how he should act."
Last Saturday night the finery of success was worn best by Syracuse. Shackleford led all scorers with 30 points; Bouie had 18 and blocked eight shots; and six other Orangemen played 17 minutes or more. Iona's frustration after its shining moment in the first half was epitomized by Ruland. Although he scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, he also committed 10 turnovers and spent most of the second half vainly waving for the ball before finally fouling out. Valvano called the Bouie-Ruland matchup a "standoff," but if it was, it was more a tribute to the vastly improved Bouie than it was an accomplishment for Ruland.
Iona, now 3-1, can only aspire to the success Syracuse has enjoyed for years. The Orangemen are so jaded that they even grouse about the home winning margin. "We're spoiled around here," Boeheim says. "If we're not ahead by 25 or more, we think something is wrong." But, of course, that does not happen very often.