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How does Syracuse basketball still make the NCAA Tournament?

The road got a bit tougher on Wednesday evening...

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

After a crushing 74-70 loss to the NC State Wolfpack late on Wednesday night, the Syracuse Orange find themselves in an unenviable — yet familiar -- spot.

Syracuse is now 17-9 and 6-7 in the ACC. Their RPI and strength of schedule numbers are fine. However, the resume gets shakier when you search for true highlights.

The Orange’s marquee wins include Louisville, Virginia Tech and Buffalo. Their “bad” losses are far from catastrophic, falling to both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech on the road. Still, the field around them keeps picking up quality victories, only making the effort toward earning at at-large bid that much more challenging over the coming weeks.

Just a week or so ago, we assessed SU’s road to the NCAA Tournament, and the thought then was that 4-3 in the final seven was probably good enough to get them in, with 5-2 sealing the deal. A 3-4 mark required at least one, if not two, ACC Tournament wins.

That win total did include NC State, however. And when you survey the wreckage from the loss to the Wolfpack, coupled with the team’s exhaustion down the stretch vs. Wake Forest over the weekend, it’s certainly not a pretty picture.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Playing what amounts to five healthy scholarship players and two more sort-of healthy ones in Bourama Sidibe and Matthew Moyer, this team already seems to be gassed late in games. And that’s before playing five games in 15 days and potentially several back-to-back games in the ACC Tournament (perhaps for their postseason lives).

It’s far from an optimistic look. But now, knowing that we need to make up some ground after losing to a fellow bubble team, what does Syracuse need to do in order to make the field -- or at least give themselves the strongest possible chance to do so?

Sorting the remaining five games in order of win likelihood (highest to lowest):

  1. at Boston College
  2. at Miami
  3. North Carolina
  4. Clemson
  5. at Duke

Given Syracuse’s road struggles of late, let’s not pretend 0-5 is off the table. But knowing Jim Boeheim’s ability to steal a win when least expected, there’s real potential in those BC and Miami games. Still, winning both? That’s a tough ask to start, before considering that the Orange likely need one more victory in this group just to even start talking about an at-large bid again.

A 3-2 mark would check the box on at least one decent-to-great road win, plus add at least one Quadrant 1 victory to the team sheet. That’s all in a vacuum, however. Ideally, at least one more ACC Tournament victory on top of that would set them up well enough to endure some chaos.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

If 2-3 happens, though? They’ll need at least two, if not three ACC Tournament wins, honestly. A 2-3 mark could mean you only beat BC and Miami, and that list still lacks a BIG win the likes of which many other bubble foes already possess. The ACC Tournament would be an opportunity to grab such a victory, but not until the third day. If SU goes 2-3, they’re likely playing on Tuesday. That sounds like a death sentence, but the 10-seed has actually done pretty well in the event since the league’s most recent expansion.

It may seem tough to envision right now, but this Orange squad’s still very much in the thick of the NCAA Tournament race, exhaustion be damned. The road’s a lot tougher now than it was 24 hours ago. And we’re definitely on the outside looking in at the moment. But as we know, fortunes can change on a dime when sitting on the bubble. Just like we were dealt a tough blow on Wednesday night, an impressive showing vs. Miami gets us right back into the win column and keeps us relevant to the committee.

If not, well... just promise you won’t bail on the site and the team in this stretch run. Sure it’s been a mistake-prone and injury ravaged year. But this young group has battled, and for that, I’m willing to keep watching. We’ve been here before and sometimes it turns out alright for us. Maybe it’s naive. However, I’m willing to entertain that possibility for as long as there are still games on the schedule.