This would have been an unthinkable article at the beginning of the year or even two weeks ago, but with the Syracuse Orange’s 17-10 loss to Duke on Saturday, things have tightened up considerably as far as the NCAA Tournament picture goes.
The Orange have slipped to 7-5 overall, 0-3 in the ACC and have only a few chances left to turn things around. The freefall has also been felt in the polls, where SU dropped from No. 12 to 18 in this week’s Inside Lacrosse Women’s Cascade Poll and No. 11 to 14 in the IWLCA Coaches Poll.
Needless to say, the ‘Cuse cannot afford to take many more steps back if they want to remain in the picture for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Teams need at least a .500 record to get an at-large or win the conference AQ. With just five games to go, it’s not an easy path with four straight top 20 contests, three of which are on the road. Here is a quick list of each opponent:
Thursday, April 5 at No. 9/6 Loyola Greyhounds (8-2)
The Greyhounds are on an eight-game win streak which includes several impressive non-conference victories. They beat two current top-10 teams in No. 6/10 Virginia and No. 10/7 Towson, plus top-20 wins over Princeton and Penn State. Their losses come to Johns Hopkins and an overtime loss to no. 7/8 Florida.
Outlook: Favors Loyola, but not decisively so. Loyola is not a dominant team on the draw and if SU can limit their mistakes, they could pull this one off.
Saturday, April 7 at No. 17/14 Virginia Tech Hokies (10-4, 3-1 ACC)
The Hokies have been solid all year long. They have a pair of nice wins over Duke and Denver, and no bad losses. However, Virginia Tech finishes the year with Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia. While they should be able to get into the NCAAT this year, another win with their remaining games should solidify their status. The Orange have struggled in games where they have to play back to back with only a day off.
Outlook: Slightly favors Syracuse. SU has a lot of latent talent on their team, but it has to show up. Virginia Tech has a week to prepare for this game and has the home field advantage. This one could very well be similar to the Orange overtime win last year.
Saturday, April 14 vs. No. 5/5 North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3, 3-1 ACC)
The Tar Heels have been good all year, but they have a young and at times vulnerable defense. Their losses have come to No. 4/4 James Madison, No. 7/8 Florida and No. 3/2 Boston College. They lost pretty badly to Florida (17-10) and Boston College (17-11) and struggled in one goal wins over Virginia Tech and Louisville. But they also beat Maryland this year (16-15 OT). Both teams will have a week to prepare against each other, so fatigue won’t be a factor. Syracuse has matched up well in recent years against the Tar Heels and this one is in the Dome.
Outlook: Slight edge to North Carolina. Will probably be a high scoring game that will come down to draw controls.
Thursday, April 19 at No. 3/2 Boston College (13-0, 4-0 ACC)
The Eagles have been on fire all year long, no question about it. The good news is that Syracuse won’t face offensive star Kenzie Kent this year as she is taking this year off to play a full year of lacrosse next year (Kent was on the women’s ice hockey team as well). Unfortunately, they have to face the nation’s top scorer in Sam Apuzzo, who leads the country in goals scored (53) and averages four a game. She has a lot of support, as the Eagles are currently the top scoring team in the country with almost 17 goals a game. They’re also good on defense, ranked 8th in the country at nine goals a game.
Outlook: Heavily favors Boston College. They are well balanced on both ends of the field, good with draw controls. Add in that it’s being played in Chestnut Hill, that means this game could spiral out of control very quickly for the Orange.
Sunday, April 22 vs. Louisville (6-7, 0-4 ACC)
Behind-the-scene issues in the offseason saw a number of Cardinal players leave the team and the coach fired. First year coach Scott Teeter has done what he can given the circumstances, but it’s clearly been a rebuilding year. As the team is currently below .500 and will face North Carolina and Virginia before they play the Orange, the Cardinals are not (barring a miracle run in the ACCT for the AQ) going to make the NCAAs this year. This is probably the easiest game on the schedule for Syracuse.
Outlook: Heavily favors Syracuse. The talent discrepancy alone should be enough for the Orange to pull off the win. It will also be Senior Day and this will likely be the last time the seniors play in the Dome.
Best Case Scenario
SU wins 4 out of 5 and wins the ACCT for the AQ. I think this is a slight possibility, but obviously a lot of things will have to come together for this to happen. This assumes that the Orange lose to BC in the regular season. In that situation, Syracuse would finish 14-6 and could wind up with a seeded spot in the NCAAT. It happened before in 2015, when SU won three big games to capture the AQ.
Worst Case Scenario
SU loses 4 out of 5 and loses in the ACCT 1st round. This is also a slight possibility and this would be devastating for the Orange. It would mean they would finish 8-10 and miss the NCAAT for the first time since 2011.
Minimum requirement to make NCAAs
The best way for the Orange to secure a spot in the NCAAT is to win at least one of the three top-10 games (Loyola, North Carolina and Boston College). Of those three, I think the former two are the best chances for that to happen. They also need to beat Virginia Tech and Louisville. Beating the Hokies and the Cardinals would guarantee at least a .500 record (9-9) even if they lose their opening round game in the ACCT. However, 10-8 would be much better.
Competition for an at-large
Should the Orange fail to win the ACCT for the AQ, they’ll still be in the hunt for an at-large. As of this article there are still 26 teams in the NCAAT with 14 AQs and 12 at-large (I haven’t seen anything in the news that suggests otherwise). It used to be 13 each, but two new conference have been added to the AQ list this year: the Southern and Pac-12. The addition of the latter came at the cost of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s lost AQ status. In the past, the NCAA has had an equal number of AQs and at-large teams, so theoretically it could be 14 each, or 28 teams total. SU would almost certainly make a 28 team field, but we’ll assume 26 for now.
Other at-large probabilities
Half of the 14 conferences will not have at-large bids. Here’s a list of conferences and teams that I think are either likely in or on the bubble:
ACC (assuming Boston College gets the AQ): North Carolina, Virginia and Duke will get in for sure. Virginia Tech is likely, but not certain. Notre Dame still has four games and could very well wind up .500 going into the ACCT. A winning record will probably see the Irish get in, but they could still mathematically not make the tournament. ACC stands at +3 at-large teams, could be +5 (excluding Syracuse)
Big East (assuming Florida gets the AQ): Denver (7-3) is a possibility. They have solid wins over Stanford and Colorado but a bad loss to Temple. SU is probably ahead in the pecking order due to SOS but Denver could be a western team option. The Pioneers still have to play Florida as their remaining big game. Could be +1 at-large team.
Big Ten (assuming Maryland gets the AQ): Northwestern is a lock at this point for an at-large. Penn State is on the bubble at 8-4, but is also likely. The Nittany Lions have a pair of decent wins over Cornell and Johns Hopkins, but lost to Princeton. They have four big games left, so a win in any of those probably secures a spot for them. Johns Hopkins (7-5) is also on the bubble with a pair of big games left against Towson and No. 1 Stony Brook. A win in either of them should put them into the NCAAT. The Big Ten is +1 at-large team right now, but could be +3.
Colonial Athletic (assuming James Madison gets the AQ): Towson (8-2) is a lock for the NCAAT with only Johns Hopkins and James Madison left as viable opponents. CAA is +1 at-large team.
Ivy (assuming Penn gets the AQ): The Ivy League has four teams vying for an at-large bid. This conference generally puts one at-large team into the NCAAT each season, and this year shouldn’t be any different (though they did put three in last year). Cornell (6-3), Dartmouth (7-1) and Yale (7-4) is still looking for a big win to help their resumes. Princeton (5-4) does have a good win over Penn. State, but a pair of games against Yale and Cornell will be swing games for them. That said, no more than one of these makes the NCAAT,so the Ivy could be +1 at large.
Pac-12: This is likely the craziest of the major conferences as far as the tournament situation is concerned. This conference is the only one that has its members play home and away games against each other, though being in the far west has a lot to do with that arrangement. At this point, I’m hesitant to select an AQ here because there are three teams that could get it: Stanford (9-3), Colorado (7-4) & USC (7-5) and all three are hovering around the top 15 in both polls. The Cardinal have already beaten USC twice, but lost to Colorado. The Buffaloes beat Stanford, but lost to USC. The Trojans beat Colorado, but lost to Stanford twice. Right now, Stanford is probably the front-runner for an AQ, but I don’t see more than one at-large team coming out of this conference. It should be +1 at-large here.
Patriot League (assuming Loyola gets the AQ, but...): Navy (9-2) is firmly ensconced in the top 15 for the time being. They’re probably ranked higher than they should be as they don’t have any meaningful wins, though they’re a media favorite due to their Final Four run last year. They lost to Boston College and Florida and still have big games with Loyola and Virginia. If they win either of those, they’ll most likely get in. If they don’t, the Midshipwomen will probably need to get the AQ in the PLT. A Navy win against Loyola and/or Virginia complicates things, but if the Middies win the AQ, then the Greyhounds would still get in as an at large due to several big wins. They could be +1 at large.
Total tally: +5 teams locked for at large, +9 on the bubble (includes Syracuse)
Basically, I think SU needs to get at least 10 wins post-ACCT to guarantee a spot. Given the history of SU and the NCAA, I could see the Orange getting the shaft if they go 9-9 and its something I doubt the selection committee would do if it was a blue blood team like Duke or Virginia in the same situation. If the Orange can get some of these draws in games and limit the careless turnovers and fouls, they could pull some wins off, but we’ll just have to see what happens.