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Syracuse will need to beat an opponent for a third time to make ACC quarterfinals

Wins have been hard to come by as it is in this event...

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

We don’t yet know who the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team will face in the second round of the ACC Tournament. However, whichever opponent it is will certainly be a familiar one.

Syracuse faces the winner of tonight’s game between the Boston College Eagles and Pittsburgh Panthers tomorrow night. The Orange are 4-0 against that group this season. Getting a third win against either, though, probably won’t be as easy.

Both BC and Pitt have struggled since SU joined the conference for 2013-14, yet this was the first time the Orange earned a 4-0 sweep in the conference-mandated annual home-and-home series against both teams. In previous years, Syracuse did well. But more regularly, it was something looking more like a split:

  • 2017-18: 3-1
  • 2016-17: 2-2
  • 2015-16: 2-3 (includes ACC Tournament loss to Pitt)
  • 2014-15: 2-2
  • 2013-14: 3-1

This year, Syracuse beat Pitt by 11 at home and nine on the road. They beat BC by six on the road and 11 at home. Even in a year where they swept the four games, the Orange didn’t really stomp these clubs... despite the fact that the Eagles and Panthers went a combined 8-28 in league play.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So any assumption that the Orange are going to walk through either of these teams both ignores the strength of the ACC from top to bottom, and the fact that it’s also really hard to beat a three times in a single season.

Since the start of Big East play in 1979-80, Syracuse has done it 12 times; which sounds like a lot until you see that it’s only happened twice since 2000 (2002-03 vs. Georgetown, 2011-12 vs. Connecticut). At the height of the Orangemen’s success in the 1980s, it happened at least once per season for five straight years, including twice each in 1986-87 and 1987-88. However, it was also a hell of a lot easier to pull off in that smaller Big East than it was in its bloated version later on (with 16 teams and 16 league games for much of that iteration).

The full rundown, just for your reference:

  • 1983-84: Connecticut
  • 1985-86: Boston College
  • 1986-87: Villanova
  • 1987-88: Boston College, Seton Hall
  • 1988-89: Providence, Seton Hall
  • 1989-90: Pittsburgh
  • 1992-93: Pittsburgh
  • 1998-99: Boston College
  • 2002-03: Georgetown
  • 2011-12: Connecticut

Not that past results indicate future returns, but it’s at least a little encouraging that both BC (three times) and Pitt (two) appear above, no? And most of those past Eagles and Panthers clubs were probably better than the ones in front of us this year.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The complicating factors this time around, of course, lie in Syracuse’s struggles with the ACC Tournament so far. For one reason or another — sanctions, wheels coming off, bad matchups, etc. — the Orange are just 1-4 in the event (Kevin talked more about that this morning). Each year’s different, but after the seventh straight 2-4 finish to the season, it’s reasonable to worry that the ghosts of ACC Tournaments’ past could haunt Syracuse once more. What we’ve seen in the second half of four of the last five games also tells us things could get more interesting than we’d like, regardless of whether BC or Pitt get through.

More than an impending quarterfinal matchup, though, this upcoming game most matters with regard to just getting SU clear of the NCAA Tournament bubble. They may be already. But a win over Pitt or BC would seal the deal and make us all (or at least, me) feel a whole lot better.