The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (12-7, 5-3) faces a weird crossroads with just 12 games left to go in its schedule.
On the one hand, Syracuse does have both a winning overall record and conference record which is still impressive when you consider how much young talent is on the Orange. And although it can be frustrating sometimes, Syracuse is at least making these conference games interesting. The Orange lost its three conference games this season by a combined 13 points, two of which were on the road against ranked opposition (#10 Virginia and #17 Miami).
Yes, this team has also had its questionable moments as well, like losing to Colgate and Bryant at home or scoring only 44 points while getting trounced by then-ranked Illinois. Recent defeats saw the Orange down by 20-plus points against the Cavaliers, then blowing a second-half lead against the Hurricanes (and of course, we can’t forget that ugly 70-69 win over 2-16 Louisville).
And yet, Syracuse has won nine of its last 12 games since that 29-point defeat against the Fighting Illini. There’s still some untapped potential here, especially with the emergence of Syracuse youngsters into contributors and with how close the Orange have been to pull off some upsets.
Time isn’t on Syracuse’s side if it wants to clinch a berth in March Madness, sitting 106th in NCAA NET ranking (10th in ACC) with a 1-5 combined record against Q1 and Q2 opponents. The Orange are also just 3-3 versus Q3 opponents with eight of its 12 wins being against Q4 programs.
With the opportunities dwindling down, here are some games where the Orange can build a NCAA Tournament resume.
January 24: home against North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC isn’t the number-one program in the country that was expected in the preseason (just look at the program’s current 1-6 record against Q1 opponents). However, the Tar Heels are finding their groove after a slow start, winning four of its last five games (the one loss was by seven points on the road against #10 Virginia) with four combined Q1 and Q2 victories.
UNC is just 1-4 on the road, and are still ranked in the top 40 in NCAA NET ranking, it could be a good opportunity for the Orange to break its losing streak against the ACC’s best.
January 30: home against #10 Virginia Cavaliers
In the first meeting, Syracuse was down as much as 23 points before rallying back to fall by seven points to the Cavaliers.
After a somewhat-down season last year, Virginia (13-3, 5-2) is off to a strong start this season with its defensive-minded, physical, and slow-tempo style. This is a revenge opportunity at home against the highest-ranked ACC team in the AP poll.
February 14: home against NC State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack doesn’t scream “otherworldly” dominance, but NC State (15-4, 5-3) quietly ranks 25th in NET ranking with two Q1 wins and a 4-1 record against Q2 opponents. The Wolfpack were the first honorable mention team left off of this week’s AP poll.
If NC State keeps on keeping on, a matchup against them becomes more and more valuable.
February 18: home against Duke Blue Devils
Need I say more? While this isn’t the most dominant version of the Blue Devils, Duke (13-5, 4-3) is still a fringe AP top 25 team that sits at 26th in NET ranking with a combined 4-5 record against Q1 and Q2 opponents.
February 18: road versus #19 Clemson Tigers
The Tigers have been the conference’s biggest surprise team to begin this season. Clemson (15-4, 7-1) is 6-2 against Q1 and Q2 opponents and has a perfect 10-0 record at home. Circle, highlight, and underline this game.
March 4: home against Wake Forest Demon Deacons
It is the Orange’s last game of the season before the ACC Tournament, and after some early stumbles Wake Forest (14-5, 6-2) has looked like one of the better teams in the conference. If Syracuse can play their way into bubble consideration this could be a pivotal game
If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that Syracuse has a pretty favorable conference schedule the rest of the way. All but the contest against #19 Clemson will be at home, and each of the teams has suffered. In fact, the Orange’s remaining road games are against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Florida State, and Pittsburgh.
How do you feel about the Orange’s chances to sneak into March Madness?