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Syracuse basketball enters season-defining stretch of ACC play

It’s make or break for Syracuse starting with North Carolina.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 11 Virginia Tech at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team begins the most important stretch of basketball when it hosts the North Carolina Tar Heels tonight from the JMA Wireless Dome. Syracuse has shown signs of improvement with its freshmen growing throughout the year, but as part of what’s become a characteristic non-starter non-conference showing, the Orange missed opportunities in the early season.

Syracuse has worked itself into a respectable 13-7 (6-3) record, but lacks the marquee wins necessary to be considered in the NCAA Tournament race that Jim Boeheim said Syracuse would be in at the beginning of the season. If Syracuse is to make a push into that discussion the time is nigh.

“I like these guys. I think they’re getting better. My whole goal with coaching this year was to get this group in here, get their feet wet, see how much better they can get during the course of the year,” Jim Boeheim said following the Notre Dame game on Jan. 14.

To its credit, the Orange hasn’t lost to anybody it shouldn’t have in the league. But an indistinguishable 1-5 record in the first two quadrants leaves much to be desired on the résumé. In league play, quadrant one opportunities against Virginia and Miami have gone begging.

Of course, one of the unique aspects of college basketball is that teams are never truly out of the hunt until losing in conference tournament play. In a down year in the league—with the usual ACC powers taking a step back—the automatic berth to the field of 68 is up for grabs. But let’s talk in terms of at-large play.

The NET, as a refresh, is the main sorting tool the 12-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to sort teams, replacing the RPI beginning at the start of the 2018-19 season.

As a refresh, here’s how the quadrant system breaks down by NET:

Quadrant 1: Home (1-30), Neutral (1-50), Away (1-75)

Quadrant 2: Home (31-75), Neutral (51-100), Away (76-135)

Quadrant 3: Home (76-160), Neutral (101-200), Away (136-240)

Quadrant 4: Home (161-363), Neutral (201-363), Away (241-363)

Syracuse has five quadrant one games remaining and two quadrant two opponents and it will need to win more than just a few of those to get into the discussion. See Syracuse’s remaining schedule below:

Home game opponents in colored text, away game opponents colored in background fill

Keep in mind that NET rankings aren’t static, meaning, opponents can move between quadrants based on ongoing results. The point in time of when opponents were played matters not when taking into account the fluid nature of NET rankings.

For example, Syracuse’s loss to Bryant is currently quadrant four based on Bryant’s NET of 168. Syracuse would like Bryant to keep winning to improve its NET to 160 or better to move that loss into quadrant three.

For color, see Syracuse’s team sheet categorized by NET below.

Syracuse’s team sheet based on NET

Syracuse could work itself just outside of tournament contention starting with a pair of wins this week, but the team still isn’t near most bubble teams, which rank in the 30-50 range in the NET. That, and bubble teams have more meat on the bone when it comes to analytics, quality wins and Strength of Schedule (SOS) than Syracuse.

For example, Kentucky is just 1-5 in quadrant one games but 2-0 in quadrant two. West Virginia is 3-8 in quadrant one and 0-0 in quadrant two but has a SOS of six. New Mexico has a SOS of 114 and a pair of quadrant three losses, but is a flawless 5-0 in quadrant one and two games. Syracuse still has to catch up to the rest of the bubble.

“We’re still a long ways away from being a good team, which is what I would expect with so many young guys,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got a fierce road ahead of us. We know that.”

That fierce road begins now. Without picking up two of these next three games, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Syracuse’s doesn’t need to win six or seven of its last eight games to be in the at-large hunt. These next three games are pivotal in determining what kind of run Syracuse can make to close the season.

“We’re still in a hole,” Boeheim said. “You’ve just got to keep digging.”

Whether Syracuse climbs out or digs a deeper hole will be determined in the next few games.