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Syracuse basketball likely needs four more wins to make NCAA Tournament

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Could’ve just solved this problem last week. Now we’re going to make it difficult.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

At one point during the Syracuse Orange’s miserable 60-44 loss to the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday, ESPN tossed up a graphic about the team’s odds of making the NCAA Tournament.

A win meant a 65-percent shot of making it, according to ESPN (and assuming Joe Lunardi?). Lose, and chances were down to just 28 percent.

Obviously, Syracuse lost. And as much as that “28 percent” may have seemed a bit low at the time, a quick look at the numbers show just how frighteningly realistic that number likely is right now.

On Saturday, Syracuse.com’s Chris Carlson posted SU’s resume (at the time) on Twitter. The picture that painted was that the Orange were lacking in Tier 1 wins, and obviously we have very few opportunities left to pad that number. Clemson is the lone remaining opponent in that conversation, sitting around the top 10 in RPI right now. SU hosts this Tigers on Saturday to close the regular season.

But even that single win isn’t really enough to shake up what Syracuse needs to feel good going into Selection Sunday. Boston College won’t count for a ton, beyond just padding SU’s better-than-expected road record. Also, at best, the Orange are 9-9 in league play heading into the ACC Tournament.

Right now, SU is 11th in the ACC standings, and needs to win at least one of the final games to avoid dropping into 12th place. BC is one game behind them, so a loss to the Eagles could hand Syracuse a Tuesday game against 13th-seeded Georgia Tech or Wake Forest (who SU is a combined 1-2 against this year, with both losses away from the Carrier Dome).

But if SU were to split the final two, there’s little chance we’re in the NCAAs without at least getting to the ACC semifinals. So put that thought out of your head for now.

If we make the large assumption that Syracuse can go 2-0 to close out the year, they could still end up seeded 11th. A look at the current league standings:

That highlighted six-team section is the range of where SU could be, even with two wins. The final two games for each of those teams:

  • Miami: at North Carolina, Virginia Tech
  • Louisville: Virginia, at NC State
  • Virginia Tech: at Duke, Miami
  • Florida State: at Clemson, Boston College
  • Notre Dame: Pitt, at Virginia

Syracuse holds the tiebreaker on the three top teams here (weird), yet doesn’t on the two lower ones. Either Miami or Virginia Tech is guaranteed to take on at least one more loss (and earn one more win) since they play one another. Notre Dame faces Pitt, so they’re likely to get to at least 8-10. All three top teams would have to go 0-2 for SU to jump up into sixth, but that’s impossible for reasons mentioned above. FSU needs just one win to stay ahead of the Orange.

Assuming the teams that are “supposed to win” all of those games indeed do so, the standings in that six-team block would look like this:

6. Miami (10-8)

7. Florida State (9-9)

8. Syracuse (9-9)

9. Louisville (9-9)

10. Virginia Tech (9-9)

11. Notre Dame (8-10)

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

SU would need Florida State to lose to both BC and Clemson (not inconceivable) to jump to as high as seventh (assuming everything else plays out the same as above). The problem with that is the quality wins against Louisville and Virginia Tech/Miami likely lose some weight in the process.

If every team wins as many games as they can, a 9-9 Orange squad finishes behind all of them, though.

That seems bad, but could also prove somewhat advantageous for SU. An 11-seed at 9-9 removes doubts about conference record, and also keeps SU’s top wins stronger in the process. Beating a 14-seed in round one of the ACC Tournament likely means either a second win over Wake Forest or sort of cancelling out the Georgia Tech defeat. Then the round two matchup presents an opportunity to pile on another win against Louisville/Miami/Virginia Tech.

Should Syracus pull that off, it means a 4-7 record in Tier 1 games (likely 4-8, assuming they lose in the quarterfinals), plus a marquee victory vs. Clemson.

That resume is far from a lock, of course. But 22-12 (9-9) with wins over Clemson, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Miami and Buffalo -- and one of Tech/Louisville/Miami twice — puts SU in far better shape than they were last year. And maybe with a chance to weather some of the typical bubble chaos. In 2017, SU had better quality wins, but they were all at home and coupled with bad losses to BC and St. John’s. This year, there are no truly awful losses, and the Orange are 5-6 in road/neutral contests so far. That record would jump to 8-7 if they won two games in the ACC Tournament (and then lost the next one).

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sold on the situation above being a lock, and you shouldn’t be either. But that’s why it’s so critical that Syracuse wins the next four, whoever they may be against. You can’t remove every doubt from the committee unless you take home an ACC title. Given the fact that we have five or six healthy players and a championship would require five wins in five days, that seems highly unlikely.

That seem fair? Or do we need more? In part, I’m not sure that getting a 7-seed in the ACC is great, because that decreases the odds of earning two wins in the tournament (first game vs. 10, second vs. 2). Same goes for getting an 8-/9-seed. So oddly, we need to both keep winning and keep rooting for all of the teams around us to also keep winning.

Agree? Think we need even more wins? Share your own amateur bracketology work below.