With just 13 games to go and a number of bad losses on the resume, Syracuse has reached a turning point in its season. While tournament hopes seem bleak, there is still a slight chance SU could play into late March. The Orange has a rather stingy schedule coming up, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. With lots of ground to make up in its quest for a March Madness bid, there are lots of opportunities for quality wins, and Syracuse needs plenty of those. That being said, let’s tier each of the Orange’s remaining games against ranked opponents based on importance.
Tier One: Must Win
Feb. 4 vs. No. 19 Virginia, Feb. 13 vs. No. 14 vs. Louisville
These two games check a very important box: they are home games. Syracuse needs to capitalize at the Dome since it has yet to win a game on the road. The Orange needs to put a couple stamps on its resume and these are two teams that can play into the SU’s hands. Syracuse needs to start picking up big wins and these are the Orange’s best chances to do so.
Tier Two: Helpful Wins
Jan. 21 @ No. 20 ND, Jan. 28 No. 9 FSU, Feb. 22 No. 7 Duke
By no means are these necessary wins, but the Orange can do no worse than 1-2 against these three. This crop holds three of the best teams on Syracuse’s schedule. Notre Dame is the lone perfect team in the ACC and has played tough games against Villanova and Purdue. Florida State might be the best team in the conference. The Seminoles are 4-1 against ranked teams this season. As unlikely as it sounds, Duke might be the most winnable game on this schedule. Not only is the game at home, but coach Mike Krzyzewski may not be on the sidelines to lead the Blue Devils as he recovers from back surgery.
Tier Three: Acceptable Losses
Jan. 16 @ No. 11 North Carolina, Feb. 26 @ No. 14 Louisville
These are by far the hardest games on SU’s schedule. The Orange has never beaten the Tar Heels inside the Dean Dome and is 1-4 against UNC since joining the ACC.
You might be asking why Louisville is both a must-win and an acceptable loss. The Cardinals are 6-8 over the past two seasons on the road and this year narrowly beat Grand Canyon on the road. This is a team the Orange can beat at the Dome, but on the road is a different story. SU is 2-7 away from the Dome against Rick Pitino-led Cardinal teams.
It is all uphill from here for SU. But if the defense locks down for this tough stretch and the offense plays to its capabilities, the Orange could sneak into the tournament.