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Just a Second: The Last Two Champions Square Off Early

Maryland won a title for Williams, then Syracuse did the same for Boeheim. One will be out after today.

March 20, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — It just doesn't sound right: Maryland playing Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

There oughta be a law.

Yet, these storied programs pair off today, at the Pepsi Center, in a Phoenix Regional elimination game, with coaching friends and golfing pals being asked to take one-irons to each other.

Maryland Coach Gary Williams and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim would never have planned this on their own.

However, less-than-sensational seasons by both teams and maybe a sense of humor by the NCAA selection committee have made these schools early-round dance partners.

"I try not to think about it," Boeheim said Friday of having to coach against Williams. "I just try to coach against their team and think of it that way."

It is a weird and wonderful, made-for-television bracket collision of No. 4, Maryland, and No. 5, Syracuse, schools in a matchup of the last two NCAA champions -- only the third time that has happened in tournament history.

In 1995, Arkansas, champion in 1994, beat North Carolina, champion in 1993, and in 1962, Cincinnati, champion in 1961, beat Ohio State, champion in 1960, in the national title game.

Two years ago, Maryland won the national championship in Atlanta and, a year later, Syracuse beat Kansas for the crown in New Orleans.

The results were similar in that they lifted burdens off coaches saddled with the tiresome tag of "best coach never to have won a title."

Williams and Boeheim had become members of a fraternity they'd never asked to join, and it sort of made them closer.

It's fair to say both were less sentimental as energetic young coaches in the 1980s when Williams, then at Boston College, and Boeheim of Syracuse did battle in one of the country's toughest conferences.

"The Big East was like the wild, wild west back then," Williams joked Friday.

Two years ago, though, in Atlanta, Boeheim pulled for Maryland because he, more than most, knew what victory would mean to Williams.

Last year, after Syracuse broke through in New Orleans, Williams approached Boeheim and kidded him, saying, "I got there first."

Williams added, "I really rooted hard for Jim in the tournament, because I know he rooted for me."

Both coaches are relieved to have won titles, but they never thought winning an NCAA title should define them.

What about that body of work?

Boeheim has a record of 675-233 at Syracuse. Williams has won 522 games at four schools.

"One of the best coaches I've ever seen was Pete Carril," Boeheim noted of the former Princeton coach. "Did he win a national championship? No. Did he have the players to win a national championship? No."

Neither Maryland nor Syracuse enjoys marquee status in this tournament, yet Williams and Boeheim have displayed their talents by salvaging what could have been disappointing seasons.

Maryland (20-11) lost four of five games after a Feb. 1 loss to North Carolina State and appeared in danger of missing the NCAA tournament before capping a brilliant ACC tournament run by dethroning Duke in the title game.

Syracuse (22-7) had its own bad patch, losing four of five games at one point in Big East play. Yet, the Orangemen rebounded and went 8-2 after a Feb. 7 loss at Providence.


Williams has only one senior on his young squad, and some thought Syracuse would founder after losing Carmelo Anthony to the NBA.

None of this has been easy. To get to this Williams-Boeheim face-off, Maryland had to win an opening-round squeaker against Texas El Paso, 86-83, and Syracuse survived Brigham Young, 80-75.

Boeheim reminded reporters Friday how fleeting fame can be.

In Thursday's first-round game, with Syracuse ahead by two in the closing seconds, BYU player Mark Bigelow missed an open three-point shot after two Syracuse players had botched their defensive assignments.

"If BYU makes that three-pointer and wins the game, what good does it do being national champions?" Boeheim said. "You've got to win the games."



Twice as Tough

No school has won consecutive NCAA Division I men's tournament championships since Duke in 1991 and 1992. A look at how the last 11 NCAA champions fared in the tournament the next year:

*--* School Won Title How far team advanced following year Syracuse 2003 plays Maryland in second round today Maryland 2002 lost in round of 16 to Michigan State Duke 2001 lost in regional semifinals to Indiana Michigan State 2000 lost in national semifinals to Arizona Connecticut 1999 lost in second round to Tennessee Kentucky 1998 lost in regional final to Michigan State Arizona 1997 lost in regional final to Utah Kentucky 1996 lost in national final to Arizona UCLA 1995 lost in first round to Princeton Arkansas 1994 lost in national final to UCLA North Carolina 1993 lost in second round to Boston College


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