When future bloggerstorians look back upon our times, it is an open question what date they will assign to the official ending of the Era of Goode Feelings.
I think I know when the Era peaked. That would be the night of January 13, 2013, when a plucky underdog from Louisville, Kentucky, who was given no chance by the critics, took on an entrenched power, the heavy favorite, who everyone knows was more talented in every way, and shocked the world:
Boom. Saying "I beat Meryl" is the equivalent of Calvin MF'ing Pryor doing the chomp to the Florida sideline in New Orleans. And then the next day, Louisville was ranked #1 in the nation in college basketball. And then that night, we whipped Connecticut:
The Era of Goode Feelings was truly amazing. By that Saturday's Syracuse game, we were like the lead character in the movie who slicks back his hair and starts driving a fancy convertible. The temperature got up to the 50s and maybe even 60s, sunny, good weather coming out of no where. A ton of football recruits were at the game and visiting that weekend. We trotted out The Rev for the National Anthem, honored the #1 pick in the MLS draft at the first timeout, some war heroes during another timeout, and the Sugar Bowl team after the first timeout of the 2nd half. We. Were. Feeling. Goode.
Even being down 4 points late, backs against the wall, we still willed ourselves into a 2 point lead. And then....well, just watch:
Watch it. Do it. The next two losses were directly attributable to this play. Sure, free throws in the Nova game and sure Georgetown is now barreling towards a 1 seed and we never beat them anyway, but, but, but: the sense of domination, confidence, destiny: the Era of Goode Feelings had pumped helium into our players and once the air came out just a little bit, you could tell they carried themselves differently.
Even now: we are in the midst of a stretch where we've won 7 of 8, including a 19 point #beatemdown of Marquette and, other than a 3 point margin against Pitt in a game that wasn't really that close, no team has come within 14 points of us. But, many will point out, this includes games against all the bottom feeders. Yes, the many, you are all correct. And your follow up point that we have been closer than we should have been and looked sloppy at times and if those teams we played could shoot like Indiana we'd lose by 40, well, maybe that too. But look at Kansas and Michigan - both have lost to bottom dwellers in their leagues during that same time period. Look at Duke and Miami and everyone else. Beating teams you should beat is, this season, nothing to take for granted.
Bringing us to Syracuse. This game is our first and only one of two certain opportunities this season to avenge a loss, and, barring some meltdown by Syracuse and 50% 3 point shooting from us, we will likely have to win a close game. Syracuse has lost 2 straight, including a 3 point loss to Buzz Williams's Golden Eagles, who soared on the burly, gilded wings of Davante Gardner's 26 points (7-7, 12-13) and 8 rebounds. They also lost to Otto Porter and Georgetown last weekend at home, not a bad loss at all. But this is sort of turning into a must-win game for Syracuse if they have any hope of sneaking into a 1 seed by winning the Big East tournament. I believe they are mathematically eliminated from the Big East regular season championship.
So what about the basketball? Here are some things I think are different about this game than our last match-up:
1) This one is at Syracuse, where strange things happen but the micro-trend (i.e., last year) is that we lose.
2) James Southerland is back, although he seems to be taking shots away from Jerami Grant (did you know his brother scored 19 points in 4 seconds to force a 9th overtime against us???!one?) and not Triche and MCW.
3) No real pressure on us because a loss doesn't look that bad, and all a win does is reassure the pundits that Indiana is still a lock for the 1 seed, so don't worry everyone. Last time, the pressure of being #1 I think got to us, and this time I think Pitino is selling the "DePaul was way more important because we CANNOT lose that game" (although his "CANNOT" meant something different than ours) because he wants to keep the team loose.
4) Gorgui Dieng's midrange game is coming around. The Seton Hall shooting was awesome but I'm not ready to say that he's going to shoot like that from now on.
5) We have 40 minutes of game tape to watch that should demonstrate this: playing 4-on-5 on offense and telling Syracuse "don't worry, our point guard isn't even going to try to drive, we are absolutely without question going to feed Gorgui at the free throw line every time down, so if you just put your mutant 6'9" point guard in front of him and we can't throw it into him, we'll just stand there for 25 seconds and try to get a poorer shot somewhere else" is not an ideal strategy. Sure, when Gorgui got the ball, great things happened for example 6 assists and actual ball movement. However, when Gorgui could not get the ball, it was clear we had no idea what to do, and Siva was under specific instructions not to do the thing he is the absolute best at. Kinda think we out thought ourselves there but hopefully that has been fixed before tomorrow.
6) Syracuse has some pressure - both losses are understandable, sure, but heading into March you don't want to lose 3 straight. They are even at risk for a double-bye at this point, especially with another game against Georgetown sandwiched around their own version of DePaul Day which I think is like ours but with snow. Lots and lots of snow.
7) The last few games have involved pretty much everyone playing well, or at least no one noticeably playing awful. This game is always an outlier because of their defensive style and the familiarity between the coaches. But it sure would be nice to see the "good" versions of all of our players show up Saturday. And make some open 3s. And play SVT more although, ya, probably not going to happen. And get Blackshear going, like, really going. He is a difference maker.
8) Brandon Triche is unlikely to repeat his performance at the Yum! (9-13, 5-7 from 3, 1 turnover) and their bigs still account for such a small percentage of their offense which is crazy because they have like 2 5-star Centers on their team at all times. So assuming we keep Triche to an average day, Southerland to an average day and Russ gets in MCW's head on defense, we should keep it close.
9) I hope the refs are different because the refs we had in our first game were the Missouri Crisis (wikipedia it) of our Era of Goode Feelings.
Or maybe they weren't. To paraphrase Orson Welles: every story has a happy ending, you just need to know when to stop the story. If you stop the story now, the Era of Goode Feelings ended on that Saturday afternoon in January as Michael Carter-Williams hung on the rim a split second too long and crashed to the floor. But the story doesn't have to stop here, and future blogstorians may look at the Syracuse game more like real historians look at the Panic of 1819. There is still basketball to be played. Our starting line-up is 3 McD AA's, a national player of the year candidate and a 1st round NBA pick. Still plenty of basketball to be enjoyed, even if it doesn't quite feel the same as it did with 2 minutes left in the first Syracuse game.
Final thought: Jennifer Lawrence beating Meryl Streep to win a Golden Globe is the perfect parallel to the Sugar Bowl, right? Well when Ms. Lawrence whipped a lesser field to win the Oscar, tripped on her way up the stairs, and then got herself together to dominate the speech and post-show stories, if you squint, and hope, and look at the teams that will make up the field, you can sort of see the 2013 NCAA tournament can't you?