Syracuse seemed to have clicked, beating up on inferior opponents on its way to a five game win streak. Then a trip down to Clemson snapped the streak in a game that looked like Syracuse would squeeze out – just as it had against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.
With Duke coming to the Dome on Saturday, SU’s most important stretch of the season begins. In the next five games, the Orange play not only the Blue Devils, but NC State, Florida State, and Louisville.
Right now Syracuse is the fourth best team in the ACC – which is an incredibly weak conference this year. Duke, Louisville, and Florida State are the three teams ahead of SU. The Wolfpack are 14-7, better than Syracuse’s 13-8 record.
Luckily for the Orange, they host NC State, who is much better at home than on the road. This year NC State is 11-2 at home, but a paltry 3-4 away from Raleigh.
But to feel comfortable with its NCAA Tournament chances, Syracuse must win that game, and at least one against FSU, Duke, or Louisville. The Blue Devils freshman big Vernon Carey Jr. will be the best player on the court Saturday. And he’ll be matched up against SU’s weakest position, center. Bourama Sidibe has had his ups and downs this season, but even so, nobody expects him to compete against Carey – who has 60 pounds on Sidibe and is projected as a top-10 pick.
Meanwhile Florida State is one of the longest teams in the country. The shortest player for the Seminoles that plays at least 10 minutes per game is 6-foot-4 – junior guard RayQuan Evans and senior guard Trent Forrest. Besides length, Florida State is very experienced, with just two freshmen playing significant minutes. They are surrounded by juniors, seniors, and third year sophomores.
Speaking of veteran teams, Louisville’s seven players who play at least 18 minutes a game are all juniors or seniors. The Cardinals also play nine guys over 10 minutes a game. Oh, and the Cards’ Jordan Nwora is probably the best player in the ACC.
None of these three matchups are games that SU is supposed to win. But Syracuse didn’t take advantage of non-conference play and its best win is against a sputtering Virginia team. After these next five games, Syracuse must feast on bottom-tier ACC teams without tournament aspirations. But if it doesn’t win one of these three matchups, it may not matter how well the Orange play the rest of the season.