The NCAA Tournament's field has officially been trimmed to the Sweet 16, and local hoops program, the Syracuse basketball team, is still alive and need a few more victories to make the Final Four in New Orleans, La., March 31-April 2.
For the next few days, SB Nation New York will be breaking down the Orange's next March Madness contest against the Wisconsin Badgers on Thursday in Boston, Ma. (7:15 p.m. on CBS). For more on Syracuse vs. Wisconsin, check back to this StoryStream.
Meanwhile, here's Part I of our preview: Season Recaps
Syracuse Orange (33-2)
Since their National Championship run in 2002-03, the Syracuse Orange fanbase has been waiting for a team to match that squad's talent, depth and grittiness to pull out close victories. Now, most Orange followers understand that only once in a lifetime does a talent like Carmelo Anthony walk through the doors of the Carrier Dome, but a Final Four run has been done before with lesser Jim Boeheim teams.
Glimpses of greatness was showcased during the '09-10 season, when veteran leaders Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins stepped up their games to lead the Orange to an impressive 28-3 regular-season finish and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, an injury to senior center Arinze Onuaku derailed any shot at being a real National Championship contender, as Syracuse fell in the Sweet 16 to the Buttler Bulldogs.
Last season's team showed sparks of what could be, but was still too raw to be a real Final Four threat, and they again exited early in the month of March. The raw talent did give fans hope that this season could be different, but nobody ever imagined something like this.
Despite scandal, criticism, scandal, more criticism and a weekly "breaking news" story, the Orange started the season on a record clip (20-0), raced to No. 1 in the national rankings and eventually cruised to a Big East Conference regular-season title.
By regular season's end, the Syracuse roster featured an All-Big East First Teamer, senior forward Kris Joseph; a second-team selection, senior point guard Scoop Jardine; Sixth Man of the Year, sophomore guard Dion Waiters; and Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore center Fab Melo.
All the good feelings came to an end, though, when the Orange played poorly in a Big East Tournament semifinal loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats, and a few days later, when they lost Melo for the remainder of the season because of an eligibility issue.
With the college-basketball world watching, No. 1-seeded Syracuse struggled but survived against No. 16 UNC-Asheville Bulldogs last Thursday, and left fans feeling a bit better with a convincing Round of 32 victory over the No. 8 Kansas St. Wildcats.
Right now, it's clear that this team has the talent to still make a Final Four run, but the loss of Melo, the constant scrutiny and the Wisconsin defense and shooting could be too much overcome.
-- By Jared E. Smith (@JaredSmithCNY)
Wisconsin Badgers (26-9)
For much of the past two seasons, the Badgers have lived and died by the play of Jordan Taylor. Last year as a junior, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Taylor emerged as one of the nation's best up-and-coming point guards. With a future NBA draft pick in Jon Leuer and another impressive big man in Keaton Nankivil (now playing in Germany) complementing him, Taylor blossomed into a smart, decisive point guard with an ability to score surpassed only by his ability to keep the offense moving without turning it over (Taylor led the nation with a plus-3.8 assist-turnover ratio).
With three new starters around him and a couple of bench players who played only limited roles in 2010-11, Taylor's done less with less this year. Earlier in the season, he seemed intent on getting his teammates acclimated to their higher-profile roles, fostering plenty of discussion about whether he should've been more focused on carrying the scoring load.
As the Badgers approached the Big Ten season, the oft-skewed numbers of non-conference play settled down. Wisconsin's non-conference slate was notable for two things - a near-upset of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a stunning (although given how well the rest of their season transpired, perhaps not so much) home loss to Marquette three days later.
The Badgers then began Big Ten play by losing three of their first four games. But before the doom-and-gloom clouds could really gather, they won their next six games -- a streak that wasn't snapped until the Feb. 4 matchup against Ohio State. Wisconsin only lost three times the remainder of the season -- twice to Michigan State and once to Iowa (for the second time).
After that loss to the Hawkeyes on Feb. 23, the Badgers ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. A 65-52 loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament briefly cooled Wisconsin, but the team has set forth two of its finest performances all season in the NCAAs. An impressive rout of 13th-seeded Montana preceded Saturday night's thrilling 60-57 win over fifth-seeded Vanderbilt.
For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, stay with SB Nation's Selection Sunday StoryStream, and stick around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for a complete printable NCAA Tournament bracket and tons of analysis on who was snubbed, who got the best bracket, and who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.