Double-digit not Cinderella for Syracuse; UNC last No. 1
HOUSTON >> Syracuse would certainly love to win a national championship. As for being considered the Cinderella of this Final Four for making it as a double-digit seed, not so much.
"I don't know if we look at ourselves as Cinderella. We're Syracuse," senior guard Trevor Cooney said Thursday. "We're not normally a 10 seed, and I think that we've proved that through this tournament."
The Orange had lost five of six games, including their ACC Tournament opener, when the 68-team NCAA Tournament field was announced three Sundays ago. Now they are in the Final Four and facing the only remaining No. 1 seed, North Carolina, their conference rival that beat them twice this season.
"It's just a reminder that we can't take them lightly," Tar Heels guard Joel Berry said.
"You just have to think about what's on the line," North Carolina senior Marcus Paige said. "The fact that we beat them twice earlier this year doesn't give us any extra points. It's a chance to play for a national championship."
North Carolina (32-6) and Syracuse (23-13) both got their first look inside NRG Stadium on Thursday, working out under the massive roof of the building more well-known as the home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
The last double-digit seed to make it to the Final Four was No. 11 seed VCU, five years ago in Houston. VCU lost to Butler, which lost to UConn in the title game.
The Orange have already knocked off a No. 1 seed in this NCAA Tournament, beating Virginia in the Midwest Regional final by overcoming a 16-point deficit in the second half. But they also beat two double-digit seeds — No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 15 Middle Tennessee State, the team that shocked No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round.
"Not getting Michigan State, even though (Middle Tennessee) won the game, but it is still going to be looked like as a break. We played a great second half against them," coach Jim Boeheim said. "We played really well at the end of the Gonzaga game. We played really well at the end of the Virginia game. For us to continue playing, we're going to have to continue to play better."
And beat North Carolina, who the Orange were within a point of going into the final 2 minutes on Feb. 29 at Chapel Hill before the Tar Heels pulled out a 75-70 victory. The Tar Heels won 84-73 at Syracuse in early January.
That second loss came during the closing stretch when Syracuse was sputtering.
"At that particular time, no, I didn't even think about a tournament. We were just trying to get some wins under our belt in ACC play," Syracuse leading scorer Michael Gbinije said. "It's a huge turnaround. ... Once we got in the tournament, us as a team knew how capable we were."
Like Boeheim, who is in his fifth Final Four and won a national title in 2003, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has been to multiple Final Fours. This is Williams' fourth at UNC after four with Kansas, and both of his national titles are with the Tar Heels — including their last Final Four appearance in 2009.
When asked if the Final Four experience is different after winning a title, Williams quickly said it wasn't.
"I'm still like a little puppy dog," the 65-year-old Hall of Fame coach said. "I think it's fantastic, love that part of it. It means you've accomplished something. It means there's a great prize out there."
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