Across the commonwealth in Louisville, Rick Pitino has taken a different path, more blue-collar than the glamour of Big Blue, but he’s reaching the same spot of dominance that could only get more pronounced in the Big East once Boeheim and friends are gone.
And now look at what’s going on in Indiana. Not since Bob Knight’s red-sweater heyday has the Hoosiers breathed the air of legitimate national contender status. Last season’s run to the Sweet 16, and the fact that everyone, including Cody Zeller, returns, has made the Hoosiers the chic pre-season pick to win it all for the first time since 1987.
In all three places – Lexington, Louisville and Bloomington - unlimited support and passion leads to unlimited expectations. They also represent three different leagues not named Big 12 or ACC, where at least there’s a semblance of conference uncertainty.
The former has a national finalist (Kansas) replacing a lot of parts, but still quite strong to fend off the likes of talented Baylor and newbie West Virginia. The latter, for too long a Duke-North Carolina stranglehold, might break with the fast rice of N.C. State before those guys from SU show up.
Oh yes, what of the Orange? Gone are Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, the core of a team that, in 2011-12, lost just three times and got to the brink of a Final Four amid the scalding Bernie Fine controversy that, thankfully, has drifted away.
What remains, though, is quite substantial, thanks to Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas. Add the imposing size and power of Jamesville-DeWitt’s latest contribution to the SU brand, Dejuan Coleman, and there’s reason to think that SU can challenge Louisville in its Big East swan song.
It’s that latter part that will be tough to digest for so many long-time Orange fans. The passage of each season was a comfortable one, from lots of early-season wins to the Big East grind where Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John’s, Villanova and the like were in the way, hated with the sort of hate that only love can explain.