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Syracuse basketball: This is not the time for gravy

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Let’s not just chalk the rest of this season up to “whatever.” We’re still in the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round: Syracuse Orange vs TCU Horned Frogs Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange weren’t supposed to make the NCAA Tournament. They weren’t supposed to win one game. And they weren’t supposed to win two, either.

We’ve been here before. Inevitably the talk of “gravy” gets tossed around when looking at where we are, versus where we should be. And where we should be this year is an especially hard concept to pin down.

Going into the year, we had limited experience, little ability to shoot the basketball and a short rotation. That was amplified when Geno Thorpe exited the program. And when Howard Washington was lost for the season. Plus the injuries to Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe that have sidelined them for significant portions of the 2017-18 season, limiting them to spot minutes off the bench in recent weeks.

Three Syracuse players — Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett — are among the top six in minutes per game in the country. No matter how young or fit you are, that sort of workload eventually leads to you running out of gas. It goes double for Howard, who’s likely still dealing with the effects of strep throat.

And these last two games have, for different reasons, also supposedly been the kryptonite for the zone and this specific, short-staffed Syracuse team. Arizona State played too fast to be stopped. TCU had the background of Jamie Dixon’s previous zone dominance and they were actually an efficient high-scoring team.

None of that mattered. Syracuse won both games, albeit in increasingly frustrating fashion.

Now, against a Michigan State Spartans team that also seems poised to beat us on Sunday, do we suddenly believe it’s “gravy” if we just keep winning?

That’s not to say we will. MSU has been a top-15 team for much of the season. They’re a better rebounding team than Syracuse. They lead the nation in assists per game. Five players on this team score between 11 and 17 points per game. And they shoot better than 50 percent from the field. The Spartans are a big team, unlike either of our previous opponents.

All of that likely means a loss here. But we’re not going to be talking about a win being gravy until it’s actually out of reach on Sunday.

This team has accomplished far more than it should have this year, but that perspective is only solidified by the season’s conclusion. Until then, they’re fighting and clawing to ugly wins and advancing despite all the doubts from outside. Once they stop doing that, and this train comes to a stop, THEN you can have your gravy.