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Syracuse women’s basketball: it’s now or never for the Orange’s postseason hopes

It all comes down to this.

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

Survive and advance. That’s the mentality the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (18-11, 9-9) needs to embrace heading into the 2023 ACC Tournament with its playoff hopes on the line.

Yet again, Syracuse has held onto its spot as a borderline qualifier for the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Orange are projected to finish as a “Last Four In” program per ESPN’s latest bracketology update.. In fact, Syracuse is the last team projected to finish with a tournament bid and the ninth from the ACC expected to make the NCAAW postseason.

In other words, the Orange’s postseason hopes will literally come down to the wire in a conference known this season for its competitiveness and depth.

Moving forward, the biggest question to ask is how much do the Orange need to show in the ACC Tournament to sneak into the tournament?

Assuming Syracuse doesn’t have the leverage to move past “Last Four In” status, I’d project that the Orange would at least need to advance past the second round of the ACC Tournament. That would mean defeating the NC State Wolfpack (19-10, 9-9) in the eight-seed versus nine-seed matchup, with the winner facing off against the one-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-4, 15-3).

Compared to other programs on the fringes of the postseason conversation, Syracuse ranks toward the bottom in the NCAA’s NET ranking. Out of the eight teams projected as either “Last Four Byes” or “Last Four In” programs, the Orange (53rd in NET ranking) are only ahead of St. John’s (54th). Kansas (38th), Marquette (40th), Illinois (41st), Princeton (46th), Purdue (47th), and Miami (49th) all rank slightly ahead of Syracuse on that front.

Meanwhile, NC State finished with the 19th-best NET ranking in the NCAA, so a win would give the Orange a big boost to its overall resume. Assuming a victory, that would give ‘Cuse a “third time’s the charm” opportunity for a win against Notre Dame. My gut feeling would predict that a win over NC State and a win/close loss to Notre Dame should be enough to sneak into the tournament.

Context matters over anything else. I’m made this point clear before, but it’s incredible that Syracuse is even in postseason contention in the first place. Both literally and figuratively, coach Felisha Legette-Jack built something out of nothing.

And now, the Orange have a chance to cap off their playoff destiny with one last push to the finish line. Given the parity of this NCAAW season, Syracuse simply can’t rely on other teams to lose. It controls its own destiny.

Now, it’s time to see if the Orange can embrace it.