Are you tired of all this tournament talk? Do you want to know if Syracuse actually has a shot at making the NCAA Tournament? This is the three-game stretch for you. After escaping the Dome with a one-point win against Wake Forest on Saturday, the Orange are primed for their biggest stretch of the season. Over the next 10 days, SU will play NC State, #8 Florida State and #5 Louisville. Those are three of the ACC’s best teams. If SU wants to feel good about its tournament chances, it has to win two of those three games.
So how realistic is it that the Orange can get the job done? They’ll have to earn it. After all, the two games against ranked opponents are on the road. Here’s a guide to the three-game stretch that includes a score prediction.
February 11 vs. NC State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack enter the game at 15-8, including 6-6 in the ACC. The main player to keep an eye on is 6-foot-10 forward DJ Funderburk. Why? Because he’s a big man, that’s why. We all know the Orange have struggled guarding post players and Funderburk could continue that trend on Tuesday night. While he’s a streaky player, Funderburk also has the ability to takeover a game. The Ohio native posted an 18 point and 8 rebound game against North Carolina last week. If the Orange don’t slow him down, they could be in for another nail-biting finish.
Syracuse has a 65 percent chance to win the game on Tuesday, according to kenpom.com. That sounds about right. Put simply, this is a game Syracuse has to have. Losing a home game isn’t an option at this point.
Prediction: Syracuse 70, NC State 63
February 15 at #8 Florida State Seminoles
Here’s where the fun starts: the first of two-straight games against top-10 opponents on the road. Getting this win is going to be very, very difficult for Jim Boeheim’s team. The Orange have just a 23 percent chance to win this game, according to kenpom.com. This year’s FSU team is different: they can shoot the three. The Seminoles are shooting 37 percent from distance this year. Couple that with their usual elite athleticism and Saturday could be a rough day for the Orange.
While Syracuse likes to play 6-7 guys per game, Florida State runs 10-12 players on the court per game. That’s a mismatch. Not to mention, the Donald Tucker Center is already sold out in anticipation of the game.
Prediction: Florida State 80, Syracuse 67
February 19 at #5 Louisville Cardinals
So if things go like I think they will, the Orange will have their backs against the wall in Kentucky next week. Wait, isn’t that a good thing? It seems like this program operates best when it desperately needs something. Considering kenpom.com gives Syracuse a measly 16 percent chance to win the game, it would qualify as one of the Orange’s biggest upsets in recent history.
The game will be dubbed as a showdown between SU’s Elijah Hughes (19.4 points per game) and UL’s Jordan Nwora (19.5 points per game), the two highest scoring players in the ACC. We’ve been waiting for Hughes to have his big moment and this game feels like it could be it. My bet is a massive performance from Hughes keeps the Orange’s tournament hopes alive.
Prediction: Syracuse 82, Louisville 80
Why do I think the Orange find a way to win two of the three games? It just feels right. This team has answered the call many times in the past several months. If they miss this call, there might not be another chance for them to prove they’re worthy of making the big dance.