From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:
The Syracuse University men’s basketball team can thank its lucky stars for a crucial win over North Carolina on March 1 that essentially placed the program into this 68-team NCAA Tournament.
For most of the regular season, the Orange was a bubble team, but the UNC win along with a strong late finish got SU an 11th seed (better than expected) in the Midwest Regional.
Did anyone figure the NCAA tourney committee was going to omit SU from the field, especially with 45th-year Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim at the helm, and his son, Buddy, recently connecting on 3-pointers at a sizzling pace? Forget the Orange’s 1-6 record against Quad 1 teams.
SU will meet sixth-seeded San Diego State late Friday night and will be an underdog but no matter. The past two times SU has been double-digit seed, it advanced to the Final Four as a 10th seed in 2016 and to the Sweet 16 also as an 11th in 2018.
Look for the Boeheims and SU to beat San Diego St., which is due to lose at some point with an active 14-game winning streak playing in a conference (Mountain West) that’s the third-worst performing league in the tournament since 2011.
SU’s Midwest Regional is truly loaded with top-seed Illinois, West Virginia, Loyola-Chicago, Oklahoma State and Houston all vying for a Final Four berth.
March Madness could be really maddening this season considering we’re still in a coronavirus world with programs like Duke, Virginia and Kansas dropping out of their conference tournaments last week because of coronavirus infections. Duke will not play in the NCAAs, while Virginia and Kansas are both in but may have limited rosters and deep runs seem improbable.
This year’s tournament, which will be held in five venues within the state of Indiana, will be played to conclusion considering last season’s cancellation was an $800 million forfeiture.
If teams, which will be tested daily, do not have at least five players available, they will be replaced by a team on a waiting list — Louisville is at the top, followed by Colorado State, St. Louis and Mississippi — until 6 EDT tonight. Teams then that cannot play will exit and their opponents will be advanced to the next round.
Overall top seed Gonzaga is trying to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to win a crown with a perfect season.
n Final Four prediction: Gonzaga (the West region on paper is probably the weakest), Illinois, Alabama and Arkansas.
n Championship prediction: Illinois over Gonzaga.
Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at email@example.com