After a 69-49 drubbing of No. 18 Louisville on Wednesday night, Syracuse now sits at 18-8 overall and 9-4 in ACC play. They’re also tied for fourth place in the ACC standings with Florida State, trailing only the big guns of Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. If you told me this was the case going into the season, I’d be thrilled. We’re talking about a team that narrowly lost a Sweet Sixteen game to Duke and retained their entire starting lineup from last season. Some experts even had the Orange making the Final Four this season. And yet, it feels like us Syracuse fans aren’t sold.
At face value, they’re a solid tournament team. The Orange have road wins over Duke and Ohio State. Pair that with solid home wins over Louisville, Georgetown, and Clemson and that’s a good resume. Good enough to get ‘Cuse a projected eight seed in Joe Lunardi’s trusty bracketology.
But it’s the losses that have left Syracuse fans scratching their heads. 83-76 against UConn at MSG. A tough home loss to in-state foe Buffalo. And the one that felt like a soul crusher, a 68-62 Carrier Dome loss to Old Dominion. Match that with beat downs at the hands of Georgia Tech and Florida State, and last weeks 73-58 loss to NC State, and you’ve got confusion. So does this team still have the potential for a deep tournament run?
In short, yes. The way Syracuse played last night puts them realistically in the conversation of knocking off any of the nation’s best. We saw that in their win over Duke. If the Orange shoot the three well enough and defend aggressively in the 2-3 zone, they’re a tough out on any night. Fans have also seen them get stuck in the zone, out rebounded, outshout and manhandled down low. It’s the ups and downs of the season that have made Syracuse look like a potential Final Four team. Other times, a first-round ACC tournament exit and another anxiety driven Selection Sunday for the city of Syracuse.
The best possible news for the Orange is that their win tonight almost guarantees they will avoid the first day of games in the ACC tournament. This has been a death trap for Syracuse in previous years, with the exception being a win over Wake Forest that sealed a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season. With big games remaining for the Orange against Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and even Clemson, the Orange have a major chance to boost their resumes. Win two of those games, and their tournament spot will be all but locked up. Lose all four and it’s another last couple of weekends to sweat out between the ACC Tournament and Selection Sunday.
One thing is for sure. The Orange have the potential to still be a Final Four team. With the emergence of Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim from deep, and the steady play of Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle, Syracuse runs deep. The question is, which Syracuse team is going to show up for this stretch run?
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