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Syracuse women’s basketball: how the Orange can clinch a bid to the 2024 NCAA Tournament

Here’s how the Orange can find their way back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.

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Syracuse v Virginia Tech Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team enters the upcoming 2023-2024 campaign with a wave of optimism following a successful first season under coach Felisha Legette-Jack.

To recap, the Orange improved their record from 11-18 overall (.379) in 2022 to 20-13 (.606) last year, which included a five-win improvement in the ACC, a near-berth to the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Round of 16 in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Syracuse’s achievements this past season were the most successful of any first-year head coach in program history. With the foundational building blocks laid out and a productive offseason to try to improve the roster for this coming year, Legette-Jack and the Orange will now have their eyes set on looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2020-2021 season.

We’ve already broken down the current state of the roster for this coming year. Now it’s time to look at some of the bigger picture questions as we head closer to the start of the season, like what Syracuse needs to do in order to clinch a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Current projections

The good news for the Orange is that they will enter this year on the inside track of postseason contention, currently projected as a “Last Four In” program in the latest bracketology update from ESPN’s Charlie Creme. That is much better standing for the Orange compared to last year, where the team never even reached tournament bid status until mid-to-late January.

The other positive for Syracuse is its current standing within the context of the ACC. As we’ve discussed in previous postseason outlook pieces, eight tends to be the magic number for how many ACC teams reach the NCAA Tournament. Currently, the Orange are sitting comfortable at that eighth and final spot based on the current bracket projection:

Who in the ACC is projected to make the 2023 NCAA Tournament?

ACC Team Projected Tournament Seeding (2024) Tournament Seeding (2023)
ACC Team Projected Tournament Seeding (2024) Tournament Seeding (2023)
Notre Dame Three-seed Three-seed
Virginia Tech Three-seed One-seed
Florida State Five-seed Seven-seed
North Carolina Six-seed Six-seed
Louisville Seven-seed Five-seed
NC State Seven-seed Seven-seed
Duke Last Four Byes Three-seed
Syracuse Last Four In N/A
Virginia First Four Out N/A
Miami First Four Out Nine-seed
Pittsburgh N/A N/A
Georgia Tech N/A N/A
Wake Forest N/A N/A
Boston College N/A N/A
Clemson N/A N/A

Syracuse will benefit with some slight regression from Virginia Tech, Louisville, Duke, Miami and NC State - teams the Orange went a combined 1-6 against last season - given the amount of turnover for those programs.

With that said, Syracuse will need to at least go 3-4 or 4-3 in that same scenario. The Orange can’t afford two losses to each of Louisville and NC State given how similarly-talented those teams are compared to Syracuse this year.

That leads us right to...

Ways the Orange can improve their tournament chances

Syracuse will likely be unable to outlast the Notre Dame’s, Virginia Tech’s and Florida State’s of the world, but it can hopefully improve around the margins of its potential tournament resume.

The Orange’s inconsistency heading into the ACC Tournament put the team in a tight corner. Legette-Jack and company couldn’t afford what happened this past year in the tournament - an 83-58 blowout defeat versus NC State. Even winning that game would’ve just barely kept the Orange in the inside track of making the tournament.

Entering that eventual 25-point defeat versus the Wolfpack, The Athletic noted how Syracuse’s impressive wins (home victories versus a top-25 North Carolina program and Miami) couldn’t outweigh deflating losses to Penn State or Georgia Tech (both of which finished below-.500). The Orange also couldn’t make up for “close, but no cigar” battles versus Duke, Virginia Tech and the top of the ACC.

Of course, expectations were cautionary for Legette-Jack’s first season given that she basically needed to reset the program following that disastrous 2022 season. But, this roster has a case to at least be better than half the conference as things stand.

Ideally, Syracuse will hope to maintain its strong performance at home (15-3 overall in 2022-2023) while picking up a few more wins versus programs like NC State, Louisville, Duke and Miami - middle of the pack ACC teams who sit around Syracuse’s talent level.

Bringing on the new non-con gauntlet

Yes, Syracuse did go 9-2 in its 11 non-conference games last season - including a perfect record versus all the in-state programs. However, it blew a 21-point lead to Penn State (88th in NET), was never competitive versus Purdue (50th in NET) in a nine-point road defeat, and then barely held on versus Yale (204th in NET) in a 60-58 win.

For the upcoming season, the Orange aren’t playing around. The non-conference slate for 2023-2024 features a better balance of sure-fire wins coupled with some juicy opportunities to upset some of the best programs in the country.

Pay special attention to the following opponents, in particular:

Non-Conference Opponents to Watch For

Team 2022-2023 Record 2022-2023 NET Ranking 2023-2024 Projected Bracketology
Team 2022-2023 Record 2022-2023 NET Ranking 2023-2024 Projected Bracketology
Maryland (away) 28-7 11th Four-seed
Iowa State (Neutral Site) 22-10 15th N/A
Alabama (home) 20-11 29th First Four Out

At best, Syracuse could finish with a similar non-conference record to last season but snatch at least 1-2 wins that present way more quality than anything the Orange could offer in 2022-2023. The good news for the Orange is that, at face value, the non-conference slate for the upcoming season presents more opportunities without sacrificing a chance at a strong record heading into ACC play.

Now, barring a complete meltdown, Syracuse will play in the postseason in some capacity after this regular season. In addition to the NCAA Tournament and the third-party WNIT, the NCAA announced in mid-July a new 32-team Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament for programs who just miss making the regular tournament. There will be plenty of postseason spots the Orange can snag, whether it be in the NCAA Tournament, the new WBIT or the WNIT Syracuse participated in last season.

But, we know Legette-Jack’s expectations remain high heading into her second season. This program is looking to take that next step forward and keep the momentum going.

Now comes the question of whether they can pull it off.