The magic number coming into this season for the Orange was nine. Nine ACC wins was thought to get Syracuse into the tournament. With SU’s latest surge against Louisville and Wake Forest, life has been re-infused into the Orange despite its recent health problems.
With six games left plus the conference tournament, Syracuse has a real shot to sneak its way into the tournament and make Joe Lunardi sweat out another Selection Sunday. Amongst the Orange’s final six contests are three top-15 teams, as well as a very good fringe top-25 Miami squad.
But that doesn’t mean the other two games are going to be cupcakes for Syracuse. It has a road matchup with Boston College, who has been excellent at the Conte Forum this season. The Eagles have beaten Duke, Florida State and Miami at home, as well as some close contests with Clemson and Virginia Tech. The other game comes this Wednesday against NC State. The Wolfpack have been tremendous under the guidance of first year head coach Kevin Keatts. NC State has marquee wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson and UNC (almost twice). That’s four teams that will likely all be three seeds or better in the tournament. However, the Wolfpack’s dominance has not necessarily translated outside of North Carolina. In fact, NC State’s only road wins in conference play came 30 minutes down the road from Raleigh in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels as well as a win against Pitt, a game that the Panthers blew a nine point lead with about 10 minutes left because they’re, well, Pitt.
As for the conference tournament, Syracuse is still looking for its first ever win since joining the ACC. Like last year, the conference tourney could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT Tournament. The ACC is arguably the best conference in the country, so every win is a good one (except against Pitt). That makes this year’s conference tournament so vital for the Orange. If the season ended today, SU would get its second crack at NC State. A pair of wins over the Wolfpack would be crucial to the Orange’s tournament hopes. Not only would it add two wins, but it would squarely put NC State behind Syracuse in the eyes of the committee.
So where are these final three wins going to come? It really is not that simple. There are zero easy games remaining on this schedule for the Orange. Even picking the three most winnable games is tough. Sure you could just pick the ones against unranked teams, but Boston College and Miami have a combined 22-3 home record, and NC State has shown it can take down the country’s best. It’s also worth noting that Saturday’s matchup against Miami will be the Orange’s third game in a week and it comes at noon.
That being said, it’s hard to dismiss Syracuse in any of its home games. UNC has looked weaker than usual this season, NC State is the most winnable game the rest of the way, and Clemson will be without one of its best players. But the Tigers have seemingly overcome that obstacle and have ascended to being the second best team in the ACC. So throw in Boston College along with NC State and North Carolina as the most “winnable” games for the remainder of the season. That’s saying a lot when the Tar Heels are in that bunch. The remaining stretch for Syracuse is going to be far from easy, and will likely need a boost with a win or two in the ACC tournament if it wants to go dancing.