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Syracuse women’s basketball: how Felisha Legette-Jack has the Orange pushing for a NCAA bid

It’s been an incredible turnaround for the Orange, but what comes next remains unclear.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone loves a good comeback story. At the very least, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team should be proud of its turnaround this season.

The Orange (16-10, 7-8) enter its last three games of its 2022-2023 campaign on a season-high, sitting seven games above-.500. Regression to the mean was a certainty given both the dominance of this year’s ACC despite Syracuse’s hot start to the year.

And yet, the Orange continue to surprise in year one of the coach Felisha Legette-Jack era in the 315.

‘Cuse ranks 61st in NCAA NET ranking with six wins against NET top-100 teams, coming off its first victory over a top-25 NET program Thursday night against #14 North Carolina (not to pat myself on the back here, but I did predict this would be the Orange’s marquee game of the season back in September). The Orange finished 4-14 in conference play last season, but this season they are sitting already with the most regular season wins (16) since the 2019-2020 season.

Even better: ‘Cuse still has a puncher’s chance at this year’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse finds itself ranking as a “First Four Out” program in ESPN’s latest bracketology projection, sitting just 0.5 games back from NC State for 8th in the ACC by conference record and 1.5 games by overall record. Would you have said Syracuse was even remotely in the conversation for March hoops, especially after the Orange were projected to finish 10th in the ACC during the preseason?

Enough credit can’t be given to Felisha Legette-Jack, who completely overhauled a program lacking direction. while coming off a successful but allegation-ridden tenure under former coach Quentin Hillsman. FLJ stressed optimism, toughness, and resetting the culture for a team returning just four players from its 2021-2022 campaign.

And yet, the Orange persisted amidst the transition and turmoil.

Dating back to the 1982-1983 season (the first season where the Syracuse program wasn’t an independent school), the Orange have had the best debut season under a new head coach.

Coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s impressive one-year turnaround

Head Coach (tenure) Overall record in first season Conference record in first season NCAA Tournament?
Head Coach (tenure) Overall record in first season Conference record in first season NCAA Tournament?
Barbara Jacobs (1983-1993) 12-15 4-4 No
Marianna Freeman (1994-2003) 5-23 2-16 No
Keith Cieplicki (2004-2006) 6-21 3-13 No
Quentin Hillsman (2007-2021) 9-20 3-13 No
Vonn Read (2022) 11-18 4-14 No
Felisha Legette-Jack (2023-pres.) 16-9 7-7 ?

There’s a lot to like about this year’s team, outside of the on-the-court success and competitiveness the team was lacking in 2021-2022 but has fully embraced this year. Institutionally, Legette-Jack has all the tools in her arsenal to rebuild a program that looked to be on life support last year: the ability to recruit quality talent via the transfer portal, a mastermind of culture-building, pushing her players to their limit while also connecting with them emotionally, and putting forth a team that will at least compete on a night-to-night basis.

The Orange still control its own destiny into the postseason. The program’s Sunday matchup against #10 Notre Dame was a tough one, yet ‘Cuse briefly led before falling in he game’s last minutes in the fourth quarter. There’s still an opportunity to finish at least .500 in conference play heading into the 2023 ACC Tournament.

Eight teams from each of the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 are projected to make this year’s NCAA Tournament. In its conference, Syracuse sits just outside that top-eight conversation as the team with the ninth-best odds for a golden ticket to postseason basketball.

The Orange will suit up next against a mix of ACC programs at different competitive statuses: #19 Florida State on the road (projected fifth-seed in the tournament), Miami at home for Senior Day (projected as a “Last Four Byes” team), and Pittsburgh (8-16, 1-12) on the road in its regular-season finale.

The Orange’s matchup against the Hurricanes could be especially important for both teams’ post-season hopes as each is on the bubble.

As discussed a few weeks ago, a .500 record in conference play coupled with a few resume-boosting wins and a decent performance in the ACC Tournament gives Syracuse its best chance of securing a postseason bid.

With that said, the Orange should be proud of where the program is at in its current state. Syracuse women’s basketball is back on the map, despite all the odds.

The foundation is clearly there. Sometimes, it’s good to see the Orange forest for the trees.