With the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team just hours away from beginning their season, there’s no better time to look forward to the program’s path forward.
Among the TNIAAM staff, the consensus is clear: the Orange need to get off to a strong start against non-conference competition before the season ramps up against the ACC.
We’ve already broken down our thoughts on Syracuse’s schedule for 2022-2023, as well as where this team projects from a talent perspective on the court. But, we haven't specifically looked at how the Orange stack up against the other 14 teams in the conference.
Since Syracuse joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Orange have only finished as a top-3 conference team once. The team typically sits in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Since 2015, Syracuse has never finished lower than 10th in the ACC, but the team has also never finished higher than 6th.
Can Syracuse break the eight-year trend? How tough is the conference this season? Which ACC teams will make some noise in the March Madness conversation?
This article looks to break down what obstacles Syracuse will need to overcome to return back to the NCAA Tournament and, most importantly, which teams are seen as legit heading into this season.
How high is the national media ranking Syracuse?
According to the mainstream national media, it looks like the Orange will finish the season in familiar territory.
Heading towards the end of the preseason, here is how the staff at ESPN, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated project the Orange to finish within the context of the ACC.
How the National Media Ranks the ACC
|ACC Team||ESPN||Sports Illustrated||CBS||Average Ranking|
|ACC Team||ESPN||Sports Illustrated||CBS||Average Ranking|
There are a couple of major narratives that stick out, based on the initial numbers.
For starters, Syracuse projects to finish exactly in the middle of the pack in the ACC. All three major sports organizations have slotted the Orange somewhere as the 8th or 9th-best team in the conference.
In 2021-2022, the Orange finished 9th in the ACC with a 9-11 record against the conference. The consensus appears to think the ‘Cuse will finish somewhere in that range this season.
Looking at the broader context of the conference, there are clearly three favorites to be the best team in the ACC: North Carolina (unanimously), Duke, and Virginia, with Miami (FL) and Florida State following closely behind.
Luckily, the Orange actually have a favorable ACC schedule this season. Syracuse will face all five of these teams just six times total, only having to play Virginia twice. Additionally, the Orange will take on Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia all at home.
Against teams seen as towards the bottom in the conference, Syracuse should have an easy slate as well. The Orange plays both Georgia Tech. and Pittsburgh twice, with both those teams projected to finish as the two-worst teams in the ACC.
As always, the real test is how Syracuse performs against teams that are equally as competitive. Any matchups against Clemson, Notre Dame, and Boston College (in particular) will have huge implications on how high or low the Orange can finish in the conference.
ACC projections in the AP Poll and ESPN’s bracketology
Heading into the start of the season, one thing that stands out is that Syracuse should be able to at least compete against the ACC.
Per the latest AP Poll, just three teams in the conference rank inside the top 25: North Carolina (#1), Duke (#7), and Virginia (#18). Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame all received honorable mention nods.
Looking at the Orange’s schedule, a majority of the programs ‘Cuse will face are .500-level teams looking to take a leap. Again, the schedule is incredibly favorable for Syracuse.
If we zoom out and take a look at ESPN’s latest bracketology, six teams are projected in the ACC to guarantee bids in the NCAA Tournament: UNC, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech., and Miami. Florida State is currently slated as a “last four in” pick.
Looking towards March Madness, the trend that always stands out is that the ACC steps up their play in NCAA Tournament play. The conference finished the 2022 NCAA Tournament with a 14-5 record, which was both the most wins of any conference and the highest winning percentage. Per the ACC, the conference has the highest all-time March Madness winning percentage compared to any other conference.
The path forward for Syracuse to finish in the top half of the conference is clear-cut. The Orange have to take advantage of teams that are at or below their talent level. At best, Syracuse could finish 6th or 7th in the conference.
But, even at worst, it’s hard seeing Syracuse falling below 10th in the conference. The top of the ACC is competitive, but the rest of the conference is surprisingly shallow compared to previous years.
ACC media preseason picks
At the ACC Tip-Off, 101 members of the conference media projected the Orange to finish 8th in the conference.
In summary, here is how the votes broke down:
2022 ACC Preseason Poll (101 total votes)
1. North Carolina (90 first-place votes), 1504
2. Duke (2 first-place votes), 1339
3. Virginia (6 first-place votes), 1310
4. Miami (FL) (2 first-place votes), 1138
5. Florida St., 1064
6. Notre Dame, 971
7. Virginia Tech. (1), 921
8. Syracuse, 700
9. Wake Forest, 672
10. NC State, 548
11. Clemson, 528
12. Louisville, 477
13. Boston College, 368
14. Pittsburgh, 320
15. Georgia Tech, 260
So based on all the projections, the Orange are slated to finish in the dead middle of the conference and rank on the outer periphery of the NCAA Tournament conversation.
With all this in mind, the season has yet to begin. Plenty could happen between now and March.
But, looking at all the numbers, the journey forward will still be a competitive one for Syracuse this season.