Syracuse top seed in east; to face UNC Asheville

JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer Published:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- The Syracuse Orange, regular-season champions of the Big East and a Top 5 staple all season long, were given a No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

The Orange, 31-2 after losing to Cincinnati in the Big East Conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, will meet UNC Asheville (24-9) on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Syracuse, a top seed for the second time in three years, is 3-0 all-time against Asheville, including an 81-63 triumph in December 2003 at the Carrier Dome the last time the two teams met.

"There's no easy games. That's the way it should be," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has guided his alma mater to the NCAA tournament 29 times. "We're excited. To be a No. 1 seed is a great accomplishment for these guys."

The Bulldogs won the Big South Conference tournament title and will make just their third NCAA appearance. Asheville received bids in 2006 and 2011, as well. Last season, the Bulldogs were also a No. 16 seed and also took on a Big East team, losing to Pittsburgh.

"It's another game," fifth-year guard Scoop Jardine said. "You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself."

Syracuse went 17-1 in the Big East to capture the regular-season title and has been ranked in the top five nationally all season. After a loss at Notre Dame in late January, Syracuse won 11 in a row before losing 71-68 to Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals on Friday.

"We know what we're capable of doing," Jardine said. "We worked all year long for a No. 1 seed. It doesn't matter where you play. We just have to play better."

The Orange now embark on the final chapter of a season of turmoil off the court. No matter how the season ends, this team will be remembered for its focus.

Last week, school officials said the university, more than a year ago, had self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy by former members of the team and that the NCAA was investigating. None of the current members was involved.

That was the culmination of a season that began with the dismissal of associate head coach Bernie Fine after two former ball boys accused him of sexually molesting them in the 1980s. While charges have yet to be filed against Fine, he was fired in late November.

Boeheim and the university also are facing a defamation suit filed by the ball boys -- Bobby Davis and stepbrother Mike Lang.