Well, that’s certainly not the end to the regular season we envisioned or the result SU was looking for. Blowing yet another halftime lead and dropping the final game of the regular season to Clemson probably wasn’t what Jim Boeheim had drawn up to improve the Orange’s NCAA Tournament resume, but the season is far from over.
Syracuse now turns its attention to the ACC Tournament that gets underway on Tuesday and after picking up its first ever win in the ACC Tournament against Wake Forest a year ago, they’re looking to build a bit of momentum heading into tourney time. The loss to Clemson wound up not hurting the Orange in terms of seeding and they still locked up a single-bye and the sixth seed in the tournament. But the road ahead is not an easy one.
The first round matchup for Syracuse should be a relatively easy one, no matter who wins in the first round on Tuesday. SU is a combined 4-0 against Pitt and Boston College this season and have won those four games by an average of nine points per contest. While none of the wins could really be considered blowouts, all four were more than comfortable and SU controlled them pretty much the entire way.
This game should be a pretty easy one for SU no matter who the opponent is, but the Orange probably matchup up slightly better against Pitt. After starting ACC play 2-2, including huge wins over Florida State and Louisville, the Panthers rattled off 13 (!!!) straight losses in conference play before recovering for a senior day win over a bad Notre Dame squad. Needless to say, the train has fallen off the tracks for Pitt and SU would be getting them at the right time.
Also, if you play the Panthers, that means you can avoid one of the best guard tandems in the conference in BC’s Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman. They’ve been thorns in the side of SU in the past and it would be beneficial to the Orange’s chances if they can avoid them altogether and if ESPN’s basketball power index (BPI) has anything to say about it, they will. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Panthers a 55.1% chance to come out with a win.
The Gauntlet After
If advancing past the first matchup with Pitt or BC is a layup, SU making it through the rest of the ACC Tournament unscathed would be like hitting a behind-the-back full-court shot while blindfolded. The conference is absolutely loaded with five top-15 teams and that’s reflected in the Orange’s journey to a possible conference title.
If SU does win its first game on Wednesday, it would advance to take on the big, bad Duke Blue Devils for the third time this season in the nightcap on Thursday. Sure, the Orange proved they have the ability to beat Duke earlier in the season, but that was when the Blue Devils didn’t have Tre Jones or Cam Reddish. Then they hung tough with the most talented team in the country in front of a record-breaking crowd last month, but Duke didn’t have Zion Williamson for that one. All three should be back and healthy for a run in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments and that spells trouble for anyone that stands in their way.
The path doesn’t get any prettier if SU did find a way past Duke because that would mean a likely matchup with the hottest team in the country in UNC, a team that just beat Duke for the second time this season a couple of days ago. That’s not to mention that the Tar Heels present a lot of matchup issues for SU and already beat Syracuse a few weeks ago at the Dean Dome.
If the Cinderella run were to continue, the Orange would then more likely see a rematch with a team that walloped them on senior night. Virginia has been one of the best teams in college basketball the entire season and probably put together its best game of the year in the Dome last week. SU has pulled off the unthinkable against the Cavaliers in postseason play in the past, but this is a team that only has two losses on the season and both of them were to Duke.
All of these projected matchups (except for Duke) only happen if this tournament goes chalk, but with the way UNC and UVA have played of late, it’s very difficult to imagine either of them tripping up before a potential matchup with Syracuse.
The path is by no means an easy one, but if somehow, someway, SU finds a way to pull off a ridiculous run in the ACC Tournament, it would be one of the most impressive runs of form college basketball has seen in a long, long time.