Going into Tuesday night’s matchup with the N.C. State Wolfpack, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team couldn’t really afford a loss.
SU was 14-9 before tip-off, and locked in an outer bubble battle with numerous squads across the country — including NC State and several other ACC squads. As you know by now, the ACC’s fairly weak this year compared to most previous seasons, so there aren’t nearly as many wins to bail us out of a poor overall W-L as there would normally be.
The Orange lost on Tuesday, and now sit at 14-10. A home defeat vs. the Wolfpack isn’t a death knell for the NCAA Tournament résumé, but it certainly won’t help. According to the NCAA’s NET rating system, the Pack are currently a Quad 2 loss, and seem unlikely to dip from that spot (though at 60th, they could certainly move up).
More important than NET at this point, however, is just collecting wins. There are two top-10 programs (Florida State, Louisville) remaining on Syracuse’s schedule, along with a bunch of top-100 ACC teams and a Boston College team that would amount to a bad loss for the Orange should they falter there.
Before diving into possibilities below, I’ll note that if Elijah Hughes is out for any extended period, you can pretty much kiss all of this goodbye. Syracuse fought well without him against State, but the Pack were also the ideal opponent for the Orange given their team strengths vs. ours. That’s not the case for most of our schedule, so the path to a bid becomes near-impossible without him. It’s already pretty rough, even if he’s back in the lineup by this weekend.
7-0 finish: Obviously in the field
We start with the clearest path to the NCAAs. Should Syracuse win the rest of the games on the schedule, that puts them at 21-10 going into the ACC Tournament, with a double-bye and two top-15 wins away from home. You don’t want a quarterfinal loss in Greensboro, but you can withstand it by winning out.
6-1 finish: In, but an ACC Tournament win would be helpful just in case
There’s a caveat here, if only because a 6-1 record with wins over FSU and Louisville is definitely in, while a win over one of those teams just gets you most of the way there. A win in the ACC quarterfinals would likely be another Quad 1 or 2 victory, sealing the deal.
5-2 finish: Let’s talk about this
If those two losses are the most obvious ones — FSU, Louisville — there’s still much work to be done, since the Orange would really be without a signature victory (sorry, UVA) still. In that case, you probably need two ACC Tournament wins — or at least just one, but against a marquee team (Duke/FSU/UL). If Syracuse can beat the Cardinals and/or ‘Noles in this scenario, I think they’re much more likely to be in, but can chip in a victory over a less ACC Tournament squad, just to be safe.
The most likely scenario that gets us here is losses to FSU and Louisville, plus a home game vs. a resurgent UNC squad. That means the Orange collect Quad 2 wins elsewhere, but they’re still in desperate need of a marquee victory. Think you need at least two, if not three ACC Tournament wins in this case, depending on who you’re beating.
A 4-3 record featuring a win over FSU or Louisville still probably needs the same, because in that scenario, you’re also adding another Quad 2 or maybe Quad 3 loss in there — so the ACC Tournament now needs to help erase that.
3-4: Deep ACC Tournament run required
This scenario almost certainly includes losses to FSU and Louisville, plus two more squads all in the top 60-100 range (save Boston College, which makes an ACC title required in my book). That leaves Syracuse with more Quad 2 losses plus zero marquee wins. Any deep run in Greensboro would need to feature wins over two of Duke/FSU/UL. You can potentially lose in the championship game and still make the field if you already beat two of those squads on the way — but some of that could be dependent on Championship Week chaos around the bubble.
2-5 or worse: ACC Tournament title required
A record in this range means Syracuse is 16-15 at best going into the ACC Tournament, so that squad’s not making it without taking home the title.
This the time where I casually remind you that Syracuse has finished the regular season with a 2-4 record in each of the last seven (!!!) years. Clearly each season exists independent of one another, but trends like that are also hard to ignore. These next two games will tell us a lot about where this year ends up. Just hope Elijah is good to go by Saturday at noon for the FSU game...