Remembering The Best March Madness Moments Involving Syracuse Following Jim Boeheim’s Retirement

Written By Matt Boecker on March 13, 2023
Syracuse Orange Men's Basketball Jim Boeheim Best March Madness Syracuse

After spending over 60 years at Syracuse University, legendary head basketball coach Jim Boeheim is retiring.

Boeheim was never one for flash or glamour. So it’s fitting that his retirement at Syracuse was neither of those things.

In fact, it was a bit confusing at first. After the Orange lost on a buzzer beater in the ACC tournament last week, Boeheim hinted to reporters that it could be the end for him. Hours later, the school issued a statement thanking Boeheim for all his contributions.

There have been many reports about what’s been happening behind the scenes at Syracuse. But one thing we know for sure is that Boeheim’s 47-year head-coaching career is coming to an end.

From his freshman walk-on days in 1962, spanning 33 trips to the NCAA Tournament as the Orange head coach — including five appearances in the Final Four and the national title in 2003 — to his 47th and final season as the Syracuse front man, we’re reliving some of the Orange’s best March Madness moments with Boeheim at the helm.

Jim Boeheim is Syracuse basketball

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a person as dedicated to their school or team as Boeheim, a 2005 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was to Syracuse. Here’s the timeline of the 78-year-old’s career at Syracuse:

  • 1962-1966: student and basketball player
  • 1967-1969: Graduate assistant
  • 1969-1976: Assistant coach
  • 1976-2023: Head coach

Boeheim is retiring as the longest-tenured coach in Division-I hoops. And only Jim Phelan finished with more seasons at one program (49) before retiring from Mount St. Mary’s in 2003. But Boeheim is the only coach with at least 40 years at his alma mater.

He finishes second all-time with 1,015 wins (not including the 101 victories vacated due to NCAA violations), trailing only the great Mike Krzyzewski with 1,202. Boeheim’s official career NCAA tournament wins ends at 58, fourth-most in history.

Jim Boeheim’s top 3 March Madness moments

During Boeheim’s time in Syracuse, he made 33 NCAA Tournament appearances. Of those, 20 turned into Sweet 16 runs, seven teams went to the Elite Eight, five made the Final Four and three competed for a national title.

3. Don’t doubt the zone defense

One thing Boeheim is known for is sticking to the 2-3 zone defense. The strategy has largely been phased out of college basketball, but Boeheim has continued implementing it.

In the 2013 NCAA Tournament, it was hitting on all cylinders. In the Orange’s first four matchups, they held opponents to an average of 15% on 3-pointers. Fueled by the defense, Syracuse advanced all the way to the Final Four.

Syracuse nearly advanced to the national championship. But as Brandon Triche drove for a potential game-tying bucket, a Michigan defender stepped in to take a charge with 19 seconds left. Still, the Orange had a chance to then tie the game. But instead of throwing up a 3-pointer, Syracuse opted for a shot in the lane. The attempt was rejected and corralled by Michigan, which put an exclamation point on the 61-56 victory with a Jordan Morgan dunk just before the buzzer.

Despite the sour end, this run proves that sometimes, sticking to your guns pays off.

2. The 1996 Sweet 16 thriller

When No. 4 Syracuse met eighth-seeded Georgia in the 1996 Sweet 16, the ending was one of the most thrilling in tournament history. With time ticking away, Jason Cipolla hit an improbable shot for the Bulldogs that sent the game to overtime.

But Syracuse had the last laugh thanks to a 3-pointer from John Wallace with second left in the game, lifting Syracuse to an 83-81 win.

The Orange, drawing from a tale that has plagued longtime Syracuse fans, had to withstand poor free-throw shooting in the Elite Eight to put away No. 2 Kansas and advance to the program’s second Final Four. After defeating fifth-seeded Mississippi State there, hopes were high for a national championship.

But Kentucky, whose SEC championship loss to Mississippi State was its only setback during a run of 32 wins, proved too much to handle, going up 42-33 at the half on its way to the eventual victory. Despite 29 points and 10 rebounds from Wallace, who became the 18th overall pick of the New York Knicks just a few weeks later.

syracuse orange men's basketball jim boeheim 2003 ncaa national championship

1. The 2003 championship run

Only one team brought the glory back to the Orange, and that was the 2002-2003 squad led by Carmelo Anthony. This was the third title game appearance in school history but ended as the program’s first NCAA championship.

Few believed in the Orange to go far that season, as reflected by Syracuse betting odds, which had the Orange closer to 20th nationally before the season began. Heading into the tournament, 11 teams had the same or better odds to win the title as No. 3-seeded Syracuse. The Orange kept winning, over No. 14 Manhattan and No. 6 Oklahoma State. Yet in the Sweet 16, eight teams held more favorable odds to win the national championship.

While the Orange got a scare from No. 10 Auburn, who upset second-seeded Wake Forest only a few days before, Syracuse survived in the East Regional semifinals thanks to some clutch free-throw shooting by Keith Duany, allowing the Orange to avoid complete collapse after leading by as many as 17 points.

Then, in the regional final in Albany, Syracuse sprinted by No. 1 Oklahoma 63-47. The win earned the Orange a Final Four date with top-seeded Texas and with Syracuse owning the longest odds to win the championship. Naturally, Syracuse put away the Longhorns by 11, setting up a showdown with No. 1 Kansas in New Orleans.

Syracuse built a 12-point lead with just over five minutes left, but the Jayhawks clawed back thanks to some sloppy play and poor free-throw shooting. Kansas had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, but missed. Still, Kansas had a chance to tie after two missed foul shots from Hakim Warrick. Fortunately, Warrick rebounded, rejecting a seemingly wide open 3-pointer by Michael Lee with less than a second to play, all but sealing the 81-78 win for Syracuse.

In his only season with Syracuse, Anthony put up 20 points (despite being held scoreless over the final 13 minutes) to become the third freshman in NCAA Tournament history to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

Photo by Adrian Kraus / AP Photo
Matt Boecker Avatar
Written by
Matt Boecker

Born in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Matt graduated from Northern Illinois University, where he covered NIU hockey for the Northern Star. Since then, Matt has specialized in NFL and NBA coverage for various websites and podcasts before shifting gears to casino and sports betting coverage.

View all posts by Matt Boecker
Privacy Policy