Orange Watch: Continued upswing for Syracuse basketball in down year for ACC

Syracuse lost three of its top four scorers

Item: Quick, name the second best team in the ACC heading into the second week of conference play?

So much for all that talk dating back as far as last summer’s official July 1 entrance date for Syracuse and Pittsburgh into the ACC, followed by all the gushing at the basketball media day activities in October proclaiming the ACC, with five schools sporting national championships and with three of the top five all-time victorious programs, having the potential to be the best basketball conference in all the land.

Syracuse is undefeated in ACC play

That time may indeed come down the road with defending national champion Louisville coming aboard next season to keep the national title roster at five, but for the present it looks more like a Big Ten dominated national landscape in 2014 with three teams among the Top 10, and with traditional heavyweights Duke and North Carolina uncharacteristically struggling for victories and beginning this week looking up in the ACC standings at both of the newcomers from the Big East.

In addition, when you look at the daily RPI rankings (as of Jan. 12), nine of the 15 ACC teams are calculated between No. 50-160, not enough to off-set whatever strength exists among the three to four teams at the top of the league.

At the halfway point of the season, and with Syracuse having taken care of business against all 16 opponents of varying shapes, sizes and game strategy, C.J. Fair spoke of how this team views each game performance as the season progresses, setting its own lofty standards.

“We have to get better as a team, but hopefully we can get better without losing,” Fair said after his 20 points and eight rebounds helped send North Carolina to 0-3 in ACC play this past weekend. “If we happen to lose, I think that’s going to be one of the biggest tests for us to respond. Hopefully, we won’t have to go through that.”

» Related: Syracuse cruises past North Carolina for third ACC win

Now, the answer to the question posed atop this article is 15-1 Pittsburgh (its lone loss 44-43 to Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden Dec. 17, and next in action Tues. at Georgia Tech), with perhaps 12-4 Virginia (at Duke Mon. night) also among the teams ready to challenge SU, although Duke (12-4), Florida State (11-4) and everyone else would be more than happy to knock off the nation’s No. 2 team, one of just four unbeaten teams left in Div. I play heading into SU’s Monday night game at Boston College (9:00 p.m. ET/ESPNU).

If the ‘Cuse avoids a major upset loss to an Eagles squad sporting the worst overall record (5-11) of any ACC team, then the Pitt game Saturday in the Dome becomes the latest season test to the unbeaten streak with the added twist of matching up against a longtime opponent more than familiar of how to beat the Orange zone, although the teams did split the final four games they played over the last two years of Big East membership.

“There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs throughout the season and we have some tough games ahead as we go forward,” Jim Boeheim said following the UNC victory while declining to compare last year’s Final Four team to this season’s standout squad. “How we react to these future games will determine if we are tough enough to make a Final Four.”

Beat B.C. and Pittsburgh and it will leave an entire week off to savior what would be an amazing 18-0 Syracuse start before a road rematch with Miami Jan. 25. That would certainly be showing quite a bit of toughness.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.