The Syracuse Orange are unfortunately headed for the National Invitational Tournament. But looking on the bright side, the NIT trip gives SU the opportunity to finally win this thing.
This will mark NIT trip No. 14 for the Orange -- the first was all the way back in 1946, which was a first round loss... to Muhlenberg College?
SU’s most recent NIT trips were back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008 (my first two years on campus). Those teams were notable for being pretty bad on defense, and injury-plagued too. Both of those years also ended a game short of the NIT Final Four. The Orange fell at Clemson (ugh) in 2007, then against UMass in 2008. You could see them as setting up the more recent run of successful NCAA runs as well.
Syracuse has been to the NIT Final Four just twice. Once in 2002 (a loss to South Carolina) and before that in 1981 (a two-point, overtime defeat vs. Tulsa). That Orangemen squad was actually not your typical NIT squad either. They’d won the Big East that year and gone 22-12, but the conference had not yet secured an automatic tournament bid.
So will this be the year that SU breaks through and wins this thing? It certainly won’t be easy, despite the Orange being the top overall seed in the field.
Along with what should be a motivated UNC-Greensboro team in round one, Syracuse could end up facing Monmouth for a second time this season (the Orange won 71-50 the last time around). On the other side of the bracket, things get no easier even if they get past those two. Georgia Tech is also familiar with SU, having split the season series (but they were beaten badly at the Carrier Dome).
Indiana, Georgia and Belmont also pose their own challenges, to varying degrees.
The other one-seeds (or at least a couple of them) might just have infinitely easier roads, depending on which teams you’re looking at. California’s probably the most favorable of all, with an entire bracket of mid-majors all getting (eventually) dragged out to Berkeley. Cal can get right back in this because virtually no one else has a shot in that region.
Illinois State’s chief competition in their region is against in-state opponent Illinois, but the Illini are on the other side of the bracket. TCU could push Iowa a bit in round two, but otherwise, the Hawkeyes face Alabama and Clemson on the other side. That’s probably as close as any other team gets to SU’s draw.
The NIT’s always a tough task for top teams who just miss the tournament. The players, coaches and fans are more disappointed than motivated. Home-court helps, but that’s no guarantee.
In 2016, just one of the top seeds (Valparaiso) made the Final Four. Two (Old Dominion, Temple) made it in 2015. Three actually made it in 2014, and SMU was the most recent one-seed to win the NIT. Before them, you’re backtracking to Ohio State in 2008.
Hopefully, this year’s Syracuse team is up for the challenge to prove (to themselves, perhaps) that the NCAA Tournament committee may gave gotten it wrong.