Ever since I started watching college basketball in 2010 full time, I have been a die-hard fan of the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. While I root for the USC Trojans in college football, I chose Syracuse as my favorite team in college basketball (even though I still root for USC) because of my dad.
I was introduced to college basketball through Fast Break College Basketball, a simulated PC game that allowed you to control teams and lead them to glory in March Madness. My dad and I would go through the game together, controlling teams such as Virginia, Western Carolina and UCLA (he had already done a tenure with Syracuse previously). While teaching me about college basketball, he told me his favorite was Syracuse since he was born there. He taught me about the Syracuse 2-3 zone and about how long-time head coach Jim Boeheim emphasizes wingspan when recruiting.
Over the course of the next seven years, my dad and I watched Syracuse every March Madness as they grinded their way through the chaos. Together, we watched their run in 2013 as point guard Michael Carter-Williams, my favorite player of all time in college basketball, used his defense and aggressive playmaking style on offense to lead Syracuse to the Final Four. I even remember him returning from a business trip and telling him that Syracuse defeated top-seeded Indiana in the Sweet 16. It was a great memory in a thrilling March for Syracuse fans despite eventually falling to Trey Burke and Michigan in the semifinals.
In 2016, Syracuse barely made the tournament as a No. 10 seed. We watched as Syracuse clobbered Dayton in the first round and defeated Middle Tennessee and Gonzaga to reach the Elite 8. There, Syracuse faced off against ACC rival and top-seeded Virginia. With about 10 minutes left in the game, Virginia, led by London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon, built a 54-39 led. Then, led by Malachi Richardson and a strong supporting cast, Syracuse went on a tear, finishing the game on a 29-8 run to advance to the Final Four. While they were blown out by North Carolina in the Final Four, this was a fond memory for my dad and I when it comes to Syracuse basketball.
In 2018, we texted about Syracuse making a run to the Sweet 16 from the First Four during my freshman year of college, marveling at their defensive masterpiece in the round of 32 as they defeated the No. 3 seed Michigan State Spartans 55-53, holding Miles Bridges and the Spartans to 25.8% shooting, a masterclass from Boeheim. We were elated and had another success to celebrate.
Unfortunately, that was the last March Madness memory I shared with my dad as he passed away due to cancer on Dec. 6, 2018. I miss him of course, especially this past Sunday.
Syracuse made it to the 2021 NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed, defeating my dad’s alma mater in San Diego State 78-62 before matching up with West Virginia in the second round. These are two old Big East rivals and in football, the hatred these two teams share for one another runs deep. So I watched as Syracuse faced West Virginia for a trip to the Sweet 16. It was a brutal game as West Virginia sharp shooter Sean McNeil kept up with Buddy Boeheim and the Syracuse long-range attack. In the end, Boeheim and the Orange prevailed over the Mountaineers, winning 75-72 and advancing to the Sweet 16 to play Houston on Saturday.
When the final whistle blew, I had a wave of emotions, crying from relief, but also sadness because I did not get to share this memory with my dad. I like to believe, as weird as it may sound, that every Syracuse win in March Madness is for him and beating West Virginia would have especially made him happy.
While I love USC athletics and their football team to death, Syracuse Men’s Basketball has a special place in my heart and I will always cheer for them until the day I die.