Katz: Syracuse rides zone to Final Four

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The expectation to reach the Final Four is always there for Syracuse.

The bar is never set below a Big East or national title, regardless of the personnel.

Yet, getting to these celebrated benchmarks is extremely difficult. Nothing is a given, but coaches are constantly graded and judged by whether or not they reach this pinnacle of the profession.

So, here are Syracuse and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, back in the Final Four, 10 years after the last trip, and with as much of a chance to win the national title as any of the previous three appearances in 1987, 1996 and 2003.

"Tom Crean did a great job and sat here [Thursday] and said he had a great year," Boeheim said, in the hallway of the Verizon Center, of the Indiana coach whose Hoosiers were muzzled by the Syracuse zone two days earlier in what was arguably the Orange's best defensive performance of the season.

"I don't believe that,'' Boeheim said. "They left at 2 o'clock in the morning. That was a Bobby Knight move. It's the way it is. If you're not so good, getting in the tournament is OK."

Boeheim talked about how difficult it is to break through, citing the recent trips for Butler, VCU and George Mason. "Some teams don't get to the tournament final," he said. "It's just hard to do this. It's four games. You can do it. It's just hard.''

Matchups have to be in a team's favor, and it can't have injuries and eligibility issues. And a team must have something that it does exceptionally well, some sort of identity to bank on when there is adversity.

Time has flown. Hakeem Warrick's block of Michael Lee was the final dagger for Syracuse in its title-game win over Kansas 10 years ago. Carmelo Anthony played his only season of college basketball that year before going to the NBA.

There were a number of chances for Syracuse to get back here, but no team -- yes, no team -- played the Syracuse zone as well as this edition during the NCAA tournament since 2003. The Orange have dominated their first four opponents -- Montana, Cal, Indiana and Marquette -- more so than any other team left in this field.

For Andy Katz's full column, click here.