After its critical matchup versus Boston College on Tuesday night, just 10 games lie ahead for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (14-6, 5-4) between now and the ACC Tournament in March. Brace for impact folks: this is going to a wild race to the finish line here.
Through two-thirds of the 2023-2024 season, Syracuse remains in the (very) fringe of bracketology conversations that you might’ve seen from various sources over the course of the past few weeks. It’s been in line with our own preseason predictions from the Nunes crew, who all (myself included) had Syracuse as a fun, competitive team that would find itself in the NCAA Tournament bubble in some capacity.
Three months later, that projection still remains accurate. Now comes the important question for the remainder of the year: can the Orange actually make the NCAA Tournament in Adrian Autry’s first season?
The ACC hierarchy remains similar to how it was about a month ago — #3 North Carolina and #7 Duke sit clearly above the pack, followed by a big group of teams who are pretty much stuck in the middle. Including Syracuse, I’ve counting 10 teams who sit in the middle of the pack in the ACC — Virginia, Miami, Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech tend to be the teams I found most in bracketology updates (along with the Orange).
Syracuse currently has two pillars anchoring its NCAA Tournament bid chances — one of the toughest schedules to date in the country and minimal “bad” losses over the course of this season.
As of Monday night, the Orange sit 34th overall in ESPN’s strength of schedule metric and 26th in its rank of strength of record metric (fourth-best in ACC in both). Per KenPom, Syracuse boasts the 21st-toughest schedule through this point of the season and the Orange’s opponents combine to rank 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This argument has been reflected in bracketology updates like these.
The recent defeat to Florida State is Syracuse’s only loss to Quad 3 (6-1) and 4 (3-0) opponents. It possesses a 3-0 record against Q2 teams heading into tonight’s game at #90 Boston College.
The unfortunate elephant in the room is having to bring up the Orange’s record against Q1 teams. Syracuse is 1-5 this season against Q1 opponents and lost by an average of 22.8 points per game. The Orange’s lone Q1 win is against Pittsburgh (67th in NET) on the road.
The good news is that there’s still time for the Orange to boost their tournament resume during this final stretch of ACC regular season basketball. Syracuse still has four Q1 opponents up on deck, including a home-and-home versus Clemson. Only three of the Orange’s final 10 games (Louisville twice and Notre Dame) are against Q3 and Q4 teams, while everything else from here on out is Q1 and Q2 games.
Syracuse’s remaining 2023-2024 schedule
A lot can happen between now and March, and with that comes a lot of unknowns. What we can confirm is this:
- A loss to Louisville or Notre Dame will pretty much end Syracuse’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
- The Orange’s six “swing” games are as follows: Boston College on the road, the two Clemson games, Wake Forest and NC State on the road, and Virginia Tech at home (writer’s note: even at home, Syracuse will be a substantial underdog against North Carolina).
- Road wins against both BC and NC State would be a best-case scenario. That leads to season sweeps against both opponents and would push the Orange a few spots up in the ACC standings.
- Beating Wake Forest on the road is a tall task, but talk about a golden opportunity to beat a fringe postseason team in Winston-Salem.
- Double-down on rooting for Oregon, Cornell, Pitt and Florida State (reluctantly...). Those teams who currently sit on fringe Q2/Q3 territory can easily jump up a quadrant on any given day between now and the next month.
Syracuse does still sit 78th in NET (ninth in ACC), and the Orange will realistically at least need to be around the 45-50 range to enter the Wake Forest/Virginia/Virginia Tech tier (all rank between 45th and 49th in NET).
The magic numbers to watch for are four and five — that’s how many ACC teams most bracketology updates project will make the NCAA Tournament. UNC and Duke are locks from here on out, which leaves roughly 2-3 spots for the Orange to realistically sneak in (writer’s note: the whole “two-bid league” thing is an outlier stance in comparison to the national consensus).
From here on out, every game counts.