Orange earn an East No. 3 seed in NCAAs

Scoop Jardine's mind quickly flashed back a year, when he excelled off the bench for Syracuse and played in his first NCAA tournament.

"Last year was a big experience," Jardine said Sunday night after the 11th-ranked Orange were seeded third in the East Region. "Just going through that whole experience, you know what to expect now. I can pass that to the young guys on this team. You know what it takes to win a championship.

"You have to be the most healthiest and you have to be one of the most luckiest to get to the Final Four," the junior guard said. "Right now, I feel like we're healthy. We've had a lot of time off. We have a lot of time to get better and focus on what we need."

The Orange (26-7) will play Indiana State (20-13) in Cleveland on Friday. The Sycamores earned their first NCAA tournament bid in a decade by beating Missouri State for the Missouri Valley Conference title.

It marks the 28th time in Jim Boeheim's 35 years as head coach that the Orange have been selected for the NCAA tournament. He's taken 15 of those teams to the round of 16, winning the 2003 national championship behind shooting stars Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara.

This isn't the Indiana State team that went 33-0 behind the magic of Larry Bird before losing to Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 national championship game. But these Sycamores have a well-balanced attack with seven players averaging over six points, and nine who've logged significant playing time. They average a solid 36.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc, and have won five straight.

"Indiana State played very well at the end of the year," Boeheim said. "They won the tournament - that's a tough conference. You have to respect what they've done. They're a very tough first-round game. They've got really good balance. Those teams are always difficult to defend."

The East's No. 1 seed is Ohio State - the Buckeyes are the overall top seed, as well. The region also includes No. 5 West Virginia, No. 9 Villanova, and No. 11 Marquette, three of the 11 Big East teams to make the 68-team field.

The Orange would face the Golden Eagles in the second round if both teams escape the first. Boeheim wasn't looking that far ahead.

"Where ever you land, you're going to get somebody tough. It's a tough tournament," Boeheim said. "This is going to be a lot of tough games. We've had a lot of good wins this year. I think the players earned it. But, obviously, looking at all the brackets, there's no easy place."

Syracuse has reached the round of 16 consecutive times. Last year, the Orange had to play without center Arinze Onuaku, an integral part of Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense and a powerful scorer and rebounder. Onuaku was hurt in a loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament and never played again.

Still, Syracuse was awarded a top seed and beat Vermont and Gonzaga in the first two rounds before losing to national runner-up Butler.

The Orange want much more this time, in what will be forward Rick Jackson's swan song as the lone senior.

"You can't take them (the Sycamores) lightly. I know they're going to be fired up, come out and play hard," said the 6-foot-9 Jackson, who had 17 double-doubles and was named the Big East defensive player of the year. "They're going to be a team like Butler last year, think that they can just come in and beat the top team. We've just got to come out, play hard, and we'll be fine."

Notes: Indiana State twice beat Northern Iowa, which won the previous two MVC titles and stunned top-seeded Kansas in the NCAA tournament last year. The Sycamores beat the Panthers 70-45 in January and 76-74 in late February, while the Orange beat Northern Iowa 68-46 in the season-opener for both teams back in mid-November. ... The Sycamores were 1-1 against the Big East, losing 81-72 to Notre Dame on Nov. 30 and beating hapless DePaul 73-51 a week later.