Just a week ago we were having an “honest conversation” about Syracuse Orange basketball’s season this year.
Since then, SU’s 1-1, looking awful in a loss to Notre Dame and decent in a win over Wake Forest.
So why are we rehashing NCAA Tournament talk right now?
Well, a quick glance at the ACC men’s basketball standings show the Orange in decent position, with a (somehow) quality win under their belts — Wake is actually a top-25ish team according to computer metrics — and after Florida State lost to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, it feels like anything’s... imaginable.
To start: Syracuse is not likely to make the NCAA Tournament by any stretch of the imagination. And even a trip to the NIT appears in doubt at the moment. This isn’t a cue to start getting incredibly unrealistic about what this team can accomplish.
Simply, we’re asking what sort of things could the Orange realistically do to put itself in position to grab an at-large bid?
Win a game -- or three — on the road
Any game will do, but a game over a quality opponent would be even better. Syracuse has lost eight straight on the road -- longest streak in the Jim Boeheim era — so really, any time they’d like to get around to winning away from the Carrier Dome would be ideal.
They have 10 regular season games left, and five of them are away: at NC State, at Clemson, at Pittsburgh, at Georgia Tech and at Louisville.
None of those are particularly “easy,” especially given Tech’s ability to roll up on FSU and beat them by 20 last night. But in order of likelihood: 1. Clemson, 2. NCSU, 3. Pitt, 4. Georgia Tech, 5. Louisville.
Win one and you’re on the right track. Two and now you’re getting better. Three? and now you’re cooking with gas. Only one of those teams is ranked, so that’s the one you want the most (since it kills two birds with one stone). But really winning any of these three games would help immensely in terms of SU’s resume.
Beat two ranked teams
Again, preferably one on the road, but any two could end up being sufficient. Of the five ranked teams remaining for the Orange — No. 6 Florida State, No. 12 Virginia, No. 13 Louisville (twice) and No. 17 Duke, four of those games are at home. If you can take two (yes, even the Duke game), your resume’s suddenly a little more sparkly when comparing it to others on the bubble.
When you look at the ACC standings, Boston College and (maybe) Clemson are the only ones really out of tourney contention. Teams like NC State (Duke) and Georgia Tech (FSU) that would be vying with us for a bid already have their ranked pelt. We have a chance to match the Yellow Jackets’ this weekend when we face FSU. But we don’t HAVE TO beat the ‘Noles to make this work. “Just” need to grab two of these five to get back into the conversation.
Win (at least) two ACC Tournament games
If Syracuse finishes around sixth or seventh in the ACC, that’ll get them a first round bye. A two-game winning streak would get them another ranked win (against the 2- or 3-seed) and a spot in the semifinals. If you’ve done the other stuff prescribed above, that MAY be enough for the committee to look past the St. John’s thing. But only if there are enough bids to go around and it’s a weak bubble.
Obviously the best way to guarantee yourself a spot is just to win the whole ACC Tournament. But we’re focusing on realism here. Without that happening, two wins could still conceivably get us an invite.
Again, shying away from pie-in-the-sky dreams, we’re looking at things that could realistically happen that would get us back into the NCAAs. And even if the boxes above all get checked, that still requires SU to avoid a frustrating setback as well. We’ve already had several of those in 2016-17. Even a couple ranked wins can’t just erase what happened in the non-conference schedule if we can’t beat Georgia Tech at home, or Pitt on the road, or Clemson on the road either.
Syracuse can still lose and make it. Those losses just have to be of a better quality than many of the ones we’ve suffered to-date.
Hopefully this doesn’t derail the realism this fan base has displayed of late. If so, blame the podcast some of you hate, where Dan and I came up with this concept in the first place.