Yes, the Orange certainly cooled off just a bit in their last two games after the program’s best start in nearly a decade. Four days after upsetting #18 Notre Dame, Syracuse lost its second game of the season to Notre Carolina by 24 points; most recently, the Orange held on just enough in a 71-64 home win over Boston College.
At the same time, the Orange find themselves exactly where they need to be in Felisha Legette-Jack’s second season as coach. And again, this team is clearly playing above and beyond its initial preseasons expectations.
Syracuse did fall in this week’s latest AP poll, but they are only four spots away from cracking the top 25 yet again. Six teams in the ACC clinched a spot in this week’s AP poll — #6 NC State, #11 Virginia Tech, #15 Louisville, #18 Notre Dame, #20 North Carolina and #21 Florida State — while Syracuse sits as the next ACC team with the most votes.
The list of those AP top 25 teams in the ACC is pretty significant, especially if pushing the Orange ever closer to a coveted NCAA Tournament appearance.
Six of Syracuse’s 15 remaining regular season games, all against the ACC, will be versus that collection of six AP top 25 teams from the conference. Half of those will be on the road, and one is hoping the Orange can take advantage of home court against the likes of FSU, VT and Louisville (Syracuse is 9-0 at home this year and 24-3 all-time in the FLJ era).
The roughly next three weeks will reveal a lot about where Syracuse stands heading into the ACC Tournament. Syracuse’s next two games are against Wake Forest and Clemson, two teams sit in the bottom-four of the ACC standings as of Monday. Those are two games the Orange need to win.
Syracuse’s start has been partly good up to this point thanks to its 3-2 record versus Q1 opponents. Those three Q1 wins are over Notre Dame (12th in NET), Alabama (25th) and Iowa State (44th). It’s also been because the team has avoided no bad losses — the Orange are 2-0 in Q3 games and and 7-0 in Q4 games.
As we’ve discussed before, part of the reason Syracuse failed to reach the NCAA Tournament last season was the inconsistency of the final resume once ACC play concluded. The Orange had some big highs (wins over ranked North Carolina and Miami) but some pretty massive duds (one Q1 win all season, questionable losses to Penn State and Georgia Tech).
Right now Syracuse is just in a much better spot compared to last season. I’d expect the Orange to continue having the inside track on ESPN’s bracketology once the latest update comes out on Tuesday. Nine teams from the ACC (including Syracuse) still remain projected NCAA Tournament teams, and keep in mind that the Orange were on the outside looking in for most of the ACC slate last year.
Following the games against Wake Forest and Clemson, four of the Orange’s next five games (between January 18 and February 1) are against ranked ACC teams. That includes a rematch versus the Fighting Irish (now on the road), a brutal road test against the Cardinals and two home games with significant importance against the Seminoles and Hokies.
In short, there is still plenty of season left to go. A lot stands in the way of the Orange between now and March. So long as Syracuse avoids catastrophe, making the postseason seems to be within arm’s reach.