How did Syracuse basketball wind up squarely on the NCAA bubble?

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It’s been an up and down season for the Orange

When Georgia Tech pays a visit to the Carrier Dome tomorrow, Syracuse will look to halt a slide that has seen it drop four of its last five contests including an away game against these very Yellow Jackets. In a season that has seen more ups and downs than the bounce of a basketball, one question remains: How did we get here?

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Fresh off a Final Four appearance, Jim Boeheim needed to replace seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney along with compensating for Malachi Richardson’s decision to bolt for the NBA. Enter grad transfers John Gillon, Andrew White III and freshman Taurean Thompson. Welp, that was easy.

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Syracuse appeared to have an out-of-conference slate set to provide them with some resume-building wins come tournament time so that no one, and we mean NO ONE…..cough…the petulant Gottlieb….cough, would throw any sort of hissy fit as to whether or not the Orange warranted a dance invite. Practically right out of the gate Syracuse dropped games to South Carolina and Wisconsin by a combined 31 points. Now, one can understand losing at Wisconsin since, well, a lot of teams lose in Madison. But the South Carolina game was in Brooklyn. And as we all know (activate eye roll), Syracuse neeeeeeeeever leaves the state of New York in the out-of-conference blah blah blah blah blah! So that 14-point setback was a bit of a head scratcher.

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The out-of-conference schedule also included three contests against familiar foes; UConn, St. John’s and Georgetown. Ah, the old Big East! Good times, good times. Not this year, kids. The Orange dropped a squeaker to the Huskies at Madison Square Garden, lost a home game to the hated Hoyas on Pearl Washington Day, of all days, after losing at Georgetown last season, and lastly, had its lunch money stolen before being stuffed in a locker at the Dome by the Johnnies (that one was a 33 point drubbing, if you can believe it). You kiddin’ me?!?!?!

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The start of ACC play was sure to change Syracuse’s fortunes especially by opening on the road against another familiar foe, Boston College. The Eagles lost all 18 league games last season so conventional wisdom said they’d assume their typical league doormat position and mail it in. Syracuse would build a solid lead at the half and coast home. Not quite. The Eagles, yes, BC, of all teams, ran the Orange out of Conte Forum to the tune of a 96-81 game that wasn’t that close. Oh, and BC currently sits dead last in ACC play with a 2-15 mark, is riding a 13-game losing streak, and closes out another dreadful campaign on the road at Clemson. Ugh!

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Things had to get better, right? Well, they did. Syracuse sprang to life by taking down No. 6 Florida State at home in a game that saw the Orange race out to a 44-26 halftime lead. Four days later, and on the road in Raleigh, Syracuse, behind a 43-point eruption from Gillon, erased a 16-point second-half deficit. Gillon sank nine 3-pointers on the day, none bigger than the one that forced overtime with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation.

» Related: Syracuse basketball needs one more win to get off NCAA bubble

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Speaking of 16-point, second-half deficits, the Virginia Cavaliers came to the Dome three days after the Orange defeated NC State. And just as it did last March in the NCAA Tournament, the Orange wiped out a Virginia lead on its way to a win. Syracuse trailed at the break, 34-22, before taking control in the second half.

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Any league road win is a good win. But a buzzer beater is the cherry on top. And the Orange pulled that rabbit out of its hat at Clemson. Tyus Battle played the role of hero this time as his 3-pointer lifted Syracuse to an 82-81 win. The Cardiac Cuse lived to fight another day.

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Teams always want to head into the post season playing their best basketball of the year. And a hot streak in the last ten games doesn’t hurt in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Syracuse didn’t get that memo this year since it has proceeded to drop four of five after running off five straight wins. There was a lone bright spot in that stretch though.

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And that bright spot came at the hands of Duke. A victory over the Blue Devils is always sweet. But when it’s a…wait for it…buzzer-beating 3-pointer by…wait for it again…none other than John Gillon; you certainly tend to have some extra pep in your step the next day.

This season has been quite long and a bit bizarre. Syracuse is a free throw shooting machine but has suffered seven losses by a combined 134 points. To invoke the late Jerry Garcia, what a long, strange trip it’s been. And if Syracuse wants that trip to continue, a win tomorrow is a must.

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About Steve Auger

Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. His work has been published on Care.com, Tom’s of Maine, Purina’s Petcentric.com and the Westford Patch. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. Follow him on Twitter @Corner_Cube.
Instant Juice: Syracuse 90, Georgia Tech 61
Syracuse basketball needs one more win to get off NCAA bubble

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