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The Big Brutal
JACK MCCALLUM
February 23, 2009
With its canny coaches, take-no-prisoners style and battle-tested stars, the Big East is the best—and toughest—conference in the land. Spend a week with Syracuse and see what it's like
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February 23, 2009

The Big Brutal

With its canny coaches, take-no-prisoners style and battle-tested stars, the Big East is the best—and toughest—conference in the land. Spend a week with Syracuse and see what it's like

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"Get to the NCAA tournament," mumbles Harris.

"Right," says Boeheim. "The important thing is to get in. We have six games left. We can't give one away. And it starts Saturday. Georgetown is good, no matter how much trouble they've had lately. But if we play well, we will beat them. O.K.?"

Heads nod. Hands come together. Voices raise. But there is a sense of uncertainty in the room as everyone prepares for a 70-minute flight back to Syracuse that will seem like an eternity.

FEB. 14, SYRACUSE

The league that TV built
Tip-off on ESPN is noon, one of 10 starting times for Syracuse this season, which is not atypical. "The league is TV-oriented or TV-mandated," says Pitt coach Dixon, "whatever you want to call it." Either will do.

In 2006, Tranghese struck a six-year deal that puts every Big East game on television, either on CBS or one of the ESPN outlets, resulting in a schedule that is, well, squirrelly. "Because of TV, we play on so many different nights of the week that it's hard to keep track," says Dixon. "We had a stretch of one game in seven days, then four games in nine days." Syracuse played four games from Jan. 10 to Jan. 19 but will have eight days off after today. Calhoun, whose teams had four games from Jan. 15 to Jan. 24, isn't exactly complaining—after all, who can complain about too much TV, since TV brings in the recruits—but he does wonder if the combination of the tough league, the schedule and the seams-bursting conference tournament might have the Big East "eating its young."

At any rate, Syracuse looks ready for a minivacation as it bumbles its way into overtime against Georgetown by surrendering 30 points over the final 6:30. But in the extra session two momentum-changing three-pointers by Devendorf, superb point guard play by Flynn (six points, two assists, one rebound) and the Boeheim-designed out-of-bounds play that gets Devendorf a layup combine to turn the tide.

"I'm getting too old for this," the 64-year-old Boeheim says as his team jubilantly gathers around him after the game. He wants to acknowledge the game's importance in the run-up to the NCAA tournament but stops short. "I'll tell you what. This is the game that ... well, all we really know is that it gets us going again and probably knocks them out." In truth, Syracuse's 19th win all but locks up a bid.

The coach stays positive for a minute or two but, being Boeheim, just can't keep himself from turning gloomy. "If we would've blown this game," he says, "it would've been the worst loss in the history of Syracuse basketball."

A chorus of groans follows. "No, seriously," he continues. "Are you kidding me? A 16-point lead at home. It would...."

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