The Syracuse Orange had the opportunity to cement their spot in the ACC Tournament last week and refused to do so. They dropped a road game against the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels and then fell to the not-quite-as-mighty Florida State Seminoles over the weekend.
As such, SU enters the ACC Tournament with a 19-12 (9-9) record where they'll face another bubble team, the Pittsburgh Panthers, in what could be a kind-of "play-in before the play-in," Or, perhaps the Orange have done enough in the eyes on the committee already to sneak into one of those finals spots. Or maybe they're out and need to prove they belong to be put back in.
So the question is...what does Syracuse have to do in the ACC Tourney in order to cement it's NCAA Tourney spot?
A. Nothing. They're in even if they lose to Pitt. Their resume is good enough.
B. They have to beat Pitt. That "eliminates" the Panthers, get the Orange to 20-wins and gives them some momentum back.
C. They have to beat Pitt and then beat 1-seed North Carolina. The Orange are a long ways from their last quality win and they need to turn some heads in order to get in.
As of right now, most experts list Syracuse as a 10-seed, putting them squarely on the bubble. If Syracuse beats Pitt, they'll most likely remain in the NCAA tournament fold. However, in order to cement their spot and remove any doubt, the Orange will not only need to beat Pitt, but upset North Carolina as well. Just a reminder, Syracuse went a combined 0-4 against Pitt and North Carolina this season.
I think Syracuse could get into the tournament even with a loss against Pitt, but it would likely be playing in Dayton. A win over Pitt and Syracuse is in the tournament, no matter what happens against UNC and we can thank a weak bubble and St. Bonaventure for giving us another win over a tournament team.
Based on Syracuse's resume, and basically every bracket out there, it sure seems like Wednesday's game against Pitt is a true play-in game for the Orange, if not both teams. SU has as many or more really good wins than the rest of the bubble, but the St. John's loss is nearly unforgivable, the loss to Georgetown looks increasingly bad, and SU has head-to-head losses with a few other bubble-ish ACC teams. I think the major issue is that people still can't get a read on Syracuse. Look at one of our 2015-16 opponents: Wisconsin. The Syracuse win aside, Wisconsin looked absolutely sunk in early January. Now, they're a tournament lock because of real, substantive improvement by year's end. People know what that team is. With Syracuse, it seemed like the Orange turned it around in the middle of the ACC season, but it's March and the team still seems just as prone to an awful no-show game resembling one of the December losses, as a really good all-around performance. All that aside, getting a win over Pitt, a rival ACC team and a fellow bubble team, should be enough, no matter what hypothetically happens against UNC. Lose, and I really can't see a great reason why SU is in over many of these other teams.
I really think Syracuse needs to beat Pitt to at least have a shot at an at-large bid. Beating UNC would be icing on the cake and probably guarantee a spot in the tournament. I keep getting more worried with the mid-major conference tournament's results so far. Three non-number 1 seeds have won, potentially taking away a spot from a bubble team. That could potentially mean Syracuse, if more lower seeds win. It makes it all more imperative that the Orange win at least against Pitt.
In order to solidify and punch their ticket into the NCAA tournament I think Syracuse needs to beat Pitt. Losing that game is not an option, they cannot have 3 losses to another bubble team, the committee will look at that and they won't put them in the field of 68. While I do think they will need to play well and keep it competitive against UNC, I really don't think they will need to beat them. Syracuse has quality wins, at Duke, Texas A&M, UConn, and Notre Dame. I think that the 20 win plateau, those quality wins, and the Orange's strength of schedule (39) and their RPI (60) will be enough to get them in if they beat Pitt.
I'd be tempted to say if Syracuse beats Pitt they're in, but the Panthers didn't look so hot toward the end of the season, and while they're considered "in" by most, I wouldn't call a victory over them some huge coup. Beating UNC is probably the only way the Orange lock this thing up. They can get in without it -- and maybe without beating Pitt as well. But the only assured route is beating the Heels.
You know I don't like to traffic in guarantees but I can pretty much promise if the Orange lose on Wednesday they're hosting an NIT game the following week. SU just doesn't have a good enough resume to justify 19 wins, especially with all of the bubble-busters and quality teams out there. So I think the loser of the SU-Pitt game is out for sure. Beating Pitt could be enough to get us into a play-in game, or one of the last four seeds in, but even then I'm not willing to bet money on it. I have too many bad memories of 2007 when we convinced ourselves we did enough and then we hadn't. Asking for this team to beat UNC might be too tall a task but it's the only way to "cement" an NCAA bid at this point.