Orange Watch: Surprised? Syracuse basketball sits exactly where it was picked in ACC preseason poll

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It’s down to the final three games to clarify if Gbinije and the Orange are likely headed back to the NCAA Tournament after a year’s absence

Item: Taking a look back at the ACC preseason media poll conducted last Oct. 28 at the annual “Operation Basketball” event in Charlotte, the Orange were at the No. 9 spot in the 15 team league, the same place in the standings the ‘Cuse currently occupies with this week off between games. Next up, Saturday’s crucial final home date versus North Carolina State (2:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network), with a win over the struggling Wolfpack essentially mandatory (unless there’s an unlikely deep ACC Tournament run in Washington, D.C. in two weeks) to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

After the up-and-down ride comprising this Syracuse basketball season took its latest sour turn last Saturday, a season sweep at the hands of Pittsburgh which dropped SU to 2-7 against Jamie Dixon-coached Pitt teams in the Dome dating back to Big East days in 2003, and its second straight loss after five consecutive ACC victories, it’s likely the ‘Cuse (18-10, 8-7) needs to win two of the three remaining games to not only finish above .500 in conference play, overcoming a 0-4 league start, but to safely secure a return trip to March Madness after last year’s self-imposed exile.

From comparing the side-by-side lists of the pre-season poll and current standings (below), of the three teams left to play for the Orange, North Carolina State and Florida State turned out to be huge disappointments from a preseason prognostication perspective, while North Carolina is exactly where everyone thought they would be back in late Oct., on top. Upsets are always possible, but it would be an unlikely huge eye-opener if SU beat UNC in the Dean Dome in next week’s Big Monday finale.

That leaves taking care of business against the two “States” starting with Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije making their farewell bows in front of the Dome crowd against an N.C. State program that went from knocking off regional No. 1 seed Villanova last March to an improbable current 13th place in the ACC standings.

» Related: Syracuse legends Wallace, Sims return to Carrier Dome

Believe it or not, Florida State actually received one first place vote back in the pre-season, so the Seminoles struggles stand out with a sub .500 conference mark, and Syracuse played one of its better games of the season beating FSU by 13 in the Dome Feb. 11. A 20-11, 10-8 regular season with the Jim Boeheim nine game suspension factored in, would seemingly be enough of a resume to warrant a NCAA bid.

If the season ended today, the first round ACC Tournament foe for the No. 8 seed Orange (due to Louisville being ineligible for post season play) would surprisingly be No. 9 Virginia Tech. Picked to finish next to last before the season, it’s been quite a rise for the Hokies, including overtime needed for the Orange to prevail by six in the Dome on Feb. 2.

ACC Pre-Season Poll ACC Standings as of Feb. 23
North Carolina 1. North Carolina 22-5, 11-3
Virginia 2. Miami 22-5, 11-4
Duke 3. Louisville 21-6, 10-4
Notre Dame 4. Virginia 21-6, 10-5
Miami 5. Duke 20-7, 9-5
Florida State 6. Notre Dame 18-8, 9-5
Louisville 7. Clemson 16-11, 9-6
N.C. State 8. Pittsburgh 19-7, 8-6
Syracuse 9. Syracuse 18-10, 8-7
Pittsburgh 10. Virginia Tech 14-12, 6-8
Wake Forest 11. Florida State 16-11, 6-9
Clemson 12. Georgia Tech 15-12, 6-9
Georgia Tech 13. N.C. State 14-13, 4-10
Virginia Tech 14. Wake Forest 11-16, 2-13
Boston College 15. Boston College 7-20, 0-14

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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