Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reacts to a question during media...

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reacts to a question during media availability. (March 16, 2012) Credit: AP

PITTSBURGH - For most of its nearly four decades under Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse basketball program has held a benign place in the minds of college basketball fans.

Sure, the coach has a famously sour puss, but the mascot is as cute as they come, that orange uniform color doesn't scare anyone and Syracuse is as well known for its snow and its sportscasters as for its famous jocks.

The Orangemen win consistently enough to be relevant, but not consistently enough to foster resentment.

All of that has changed this season, to the point that when Boeheim was asked Thursday about the "us-against-the-world mentality" of his team, he cracked, "I don't think it's the whole world - three-quarters, maybe. I think there are some people in China that aren't upset with us."

Boeheim then fielded a question about the crowd in Pittsburgh Thursday rooting hard against his team and booing the Orangemen's victory over North Carolina Asheville and the officials' role in it.

Then he launched into an unsolicited, 10-minute defense of himself and his program in response to a USA Today article and column about his compliance with and commitment to the NCAA's academic progress rate rules - complete with a sharp critique of Boeheim by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education.

When he finally was through, at the urging of an NCAA moderator, Boeheim said, "So I think it's fair to say that I'm upset right now."

The coach and his top-seeded Orangemen will try to turn that anger on No. 8 seed Kansas State Saturday in a third-round East Regional game, a matchup that figures to test them in the absence of starting center Fab Melo.

Kansas State has its own formidable, Melo-like presence in 6-11 center Jordan Henriquez, a matchup that looks a lot worse for Syracuse than it did before Melo was declared ineligible.

If Boeheim was concerned about that Friday, he wasn't saying. But he did pick up where he left off Thursday in demeanor. He began his news conference by taking a couple of seemingly good-natured shots at Turner analyst Reggie Miller, who was seated among other journalists, about his on-air analysis of the Asheville game.

Later, he veered off, unsolicited, into a detailed discussion of the controversial calls that went Syracuse's way against Asheville, noting calls he believed went against the Orangemen.

Boeheim seemed to be feeling neither fab nor mellow. Of course, he never seems to be having fun. Still, this season has tried him like no other, despite the team's 32-2 record.

The program has had its image sullied by the sexual-abuse allegations that led to the firing of longtime assistant Bernie Fine and by a report about violations of the school's substance abuse policy over the past decade.

Then came the Melo news. Then the Asheville game, the result of which still was being booed in the arena every time it was announced, many hours after the game was over.

Boeheim and his players insisted the spectators merely were supporting an underdog, as neutral crowds do. (Guard Scoop Jardine joked that he thought fans were saying "Scoop," not "boo.") But there seemed to be more at work, something even the permanent smile on Otto the Orange's face can't cure.

Rodriguez accepts apology

Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez said he accepted the apology of Southern Mississippi officials after members of the school's pep band chanted "Where's your green card?'' when he was on the free-throw line Thursday.

"I don't pay attention to that nonsense, especially because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, so we don't need any type of papers,'' Rodriguez said.


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