March 25, 2016
When Jim Boeheim leads Syracuse into the Sweet 16 on Friday night against Gonzaga, he’ll be in uncharted territory as his 40th season winds down. Boeheim’s Orange are playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and so are the Syracuse women – for the first time in program history.
“I’m really, really happy for our girls’ team,” Boeheim said Wednesday before the team departed for Chicago and its 19th appearance in the Sweet 16. “It makes you proud.”
When March Madness began, 24 schools had both their men and women playing. Now just two remain – Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Just getting both the men’s and women’s teams selected is a big deal in itself for a school. Both making it past the first weekend of tournament play is an even bigger bonus.
“It means a lot, just this moment of being here,” said Quentin Hillsman, in his 10th season as women’s coach at Syracuse. “I pinch myself after every win past nine. Our first year, we won nine games.”
In no particular order, here are the schools that had their men’s and women’s teams selected: UConn, Seton Hall, Chattanooga, Michigan State, Hawaii, Texas, Baylor, Middle Tennessee, Texas A&M, Oregon State, West Virginia, Buffalo, Green Bay, Indiana, Miami, South Dakota State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Kentucky, UNC Asheville, Maryland, Iona, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.
Boeheim’s Orange beat Dayton (70-51) and Middle Tennessee State (75-50) in the first two rounds, while Mike Brey’s Irish outlasted Michigan (70-63) and Stephen F. Austin (76-75).
The Syracuse women defeated New York foes Army (73-56) and Albany (76-59) in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome, while the Irish defeated North Carolina A&T (95-61) and Indiana (87-70).
“We have three teams in the Sweet 16 (including hockey). I wouldn’t want to be (athletic director) Jack Swarbrick right now, trying to figure out how he can get to every game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s exciting for all the fans. It’s exciting for all the teams. The players are all supporting each other.”
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly talked Wednesday about the momentum on campus with the success of the men’s and women’s teams basketball teams, the men’s hockey team selected to play in the NCAA Tournament, and media reports that four football players had committed to the Irish this week.
“Our athletic department and the success that all of our teams are having, all of us feed off of it,” Kelly said. “You try to set the table in the fall and then you build off of that.
“All the sports are trying to do the same thing, but we’re having a great year and, obviously, for us, now we’re in that recruiting cycle and it’s built up some pretty good energy.”
UConn is the standard bearer in hoops. The Huskies have had both the men and women win the national championship in the same year twice (2004 and 2014). This year, the women are unbeaten and holding up their end of the bargain, but Kevin Ollie’s men are gone, ousted 73-61 in the second round by top-seeded Kansas.
The Notre Dame women (33-1) face Stanford (26-7) on Friday night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the Irish men (23-11) meet Wisconsin (22-12), also on Friday night, in Philadelphia.
The Syracuse women (27-7) lost 97-68 in the second round a year ago to South Carolina, their foe in Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup in the Sioux Falls Regional.
“You should be happy that you’re one of the few teams still dancing. We know how last year ended,” Syracuse junior guard Alexis Peterson said. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment. To get over this hump is big for this team. The Sweet 16 is just the beginning. We want to get to the end.”