Last season we saw Syracuse basketball finish as one of the first four out of the NCAA tournament and one of the biggest reasons was because it had some atrocious losses on its resume. Sure, SU was able to knock off the likes of Duke, Virginia and Florida State during the season, but it also had blowout losses at the hands of some not-so-great competition in St. John’s and Boston College.
After starting ACC play 2-4, SU is once again staring the bubble directly in the face and one of the teams that handled SU easily last season is rearing its ugly head again on Wednesday when BC heads to the Dome. Yes, the Orange beat up on the Eagles in the Loud House last season, but Boston College has shown that it knows the formula to beat SU no matter the location. The Eagles are also a much-improved team from what they showed last season and have already knocked off the likes of Duke and Florida State this year. With all of the that in mind, this game won’t be a cakewalk for the Orange and despite its low-key status, could be one of the most important contests of the season.
Can’t afford a 2-5 start in conference
Playing in the ACC is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the brutal gauntlet can wear a team down and provide some pretty one-sided decisions for middle- and lower-tier teams. On the other hand, it’s also a conference where those middle-low tier teams can also pull off some gigantic upsets that swing your season in a positive direction and bolster your tournament resume. Despite that up-and-down nature of the conference, the NCAA Tournament committee still expects tournament-quality teams to put up a solid conference record to get to the Big Dance. However, if SU loses to BC (at home no less) and falls to 2-5 in ACC play, pulling out a solid conference record would be very much up in the air for the Orange. Last season, SU started ACC play at 3-4 and still wasn’t able to make the Tournament despite pulling off those aforementioned massive upsets against Virginia, Florida State and Duke. It didn’t pick up its fifth conference loss until the 13th ACC game of the season because of a five-game winning streak. Again, that kind of run with those quality wins in conference still wasn’t enough for SU to make it into the field of 68. For that reason, it is imperative that SU not start 2-5 in the conference this season. Let’s face it, 5-0 stretches in the ACC with wins over some of the conference’s best teams simply do not come every season and SU can’t be relying on another one of those magical stretches this year especially considering it doesn’t really have a really great quality win yet. This BC game is an opportunity for SU to get back on the right track and avoid an even more disastrous start to conference play than it had last season. The rules are simple folks, win in-conference and have a good non-conference record (which SU did this year) and you’ll probably see yourselves dancing in March.
This starts the easiest stretch of SU’s ACC slate
All that talk about how SU can’t rely on big upsets in conference play to beef up its tournament resume for the committee brings me to my next point. SU’s perennially difficult games (Duke, UNC, Louisville, another matchup with UVA) are still all on the horizon and are going to be very difficult to win considering how well all of them are playing and the kind of matchup issues they can present to SU (basically, they are all bigger and more physical than Paschal Chukwu and an ailing Bourama Sididbe), it’s going to be vital to SU’s conference record and resume that it plays nearly flawlessly over the next few games, a stretch that can probably be considered the easiest of the remaining ACC schedule. After Boston College on Wednesday, SU plays at Pittsburgh and at Georgia Tech before squaring off with UVA once more in the Dome. Pitt is by far the worst team in the ACC and Georgia Tech is fluttering just above .500 (10-9) and ranks 14th in the conference in BPI behind only Pittsburgh. All three of these games are very winnable for the Orange and could be SU’s best chance to pick up a few more conference wins before it has to duke it out (pun most definitely intended) with the big dogs of the ACC. That stretch starts with Boston College and the showdown with the Eagles could help to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Now that we’ve talked about all the statistical reasons that this Boston College game is important to SU, let’s get a little more abstract and take a look at the bigger picture. Losing five of seven is never going to be easy for a basketball team and throughout these first seven games of conference play, there have been times where SU has looked dejected and disinterested. Moments that come to mind include Frank Howard and Marek Dolezaj giving up on the fastbreak layup that eventually sealed a win for Notre Dame and Tyus Battle committing a pair of ten-second violations in the double-overtime loss to Florida State. The Orange needs a shot of adrenaline or something to get them back and interested in the season and a win over BC could be just the boost it’s looking for. Sure, BC isn’t the greatest team on the planet, but it has already shown the ability to beat both Duke and FSU. While often times the transitive property doesn’t apply in the world of sports (if it did, SU would have made the College Football Playoff), if Syracuse knocks off Boston College then that proves, to some extent, that they can compete with the best of the best in the ACC. If that confidence boost is there for Syracuse and they can rejuvenate its team and its offense as a result, then conference play and the entire season can turn on a dime.