Orange Watch: Minimum of five games left to decide Syracuse basketball’s postseason

The games are dwindling for SU to win and lock down an NCAA invite
The games are dwindling for SU to win and lock down an NCAA invite

Item: Following the 11th defeat of the season Monday evening in overtime against Louisville at the Dome, and coming off successive regular seasons (working backwards) of 12 (eventual unexpected Final Four run) and 13 defeats (self-imposed NCAA ban), respectively, with Selection Sunday now a mere 26 days away, Orange Nation finds itself back in the same spot as Selection Sunday a year ago. Remember that social media leak of the bracket that showed Syracuse as a No. 10 seed drawing 7th seed Dayton in the Midwest Regional at the St. Louis site, well before the CBS TV and digital audience? It couldn’t be true, could it? The reality was yes, the strength of the collective ACC aided the ‘Cuse last year to end up part of the NCAA conversation, and now SU will need more conference victories this time around.

After that furious rally fell one point short against Pittsburgh in the opening round of last year’s ACC Tournament at Washington, it not only kept the Orange winless in two games in that prestigious event dating back to the inaugural 2014 season, but also dropped SU’s record to 19-13, and lowered expectations to figuring the Orange were at best headed to an opening-round NCAA game at Dayton before the round of 64 got underway, let alone bracketed for a game versus Dayton as a 10 seed.

But that team sported a 9-9 conference record against a ridiculously tough ACC along with a couple of key early-season neutral court wins, something this year’s team does not have on its resume and necessitating the need to increase the current eight league wins sooner than later.

» Related: Time is running out for Syracuse to cement its NCAA Tournament resume

“We got to win. We got to win. That’s simply it,” John Gillon told Cuse.TV Monday with emphasis of exactly what has to transpire over the last four games, two against Georgia Tech beginning with Sunday evening’s trip to Atlanta (6:30 p.m. ET/ ESPNU), home to Duke and at Louisville, before at least one game at Brooklyn in the ACC Tournament.

“We’re going to go in (to the last four games) and play hard,” Gillon continued. “I’m going to play hard. I’m going to go watch film, (and) try to be better.”

As has been evident throughout ACC play, as Gillon goes, so go the Orange offensively, even though Andrew White III has put up more consistent scoring numbers from the get-go. White’s currently among the Top 10 of ACC scoring leaders at almost 18 ppg, and the Louisville game marked the latest time this season in which he almost singlehandedly brought the Orange back, this time in overtime.

“We enjoy being in the moment, win, lose or draw, its basketball at its best,” White said in a quiet SU locker room Monday after scoring half of his 22 points in OT. “Now our concentration is doing whatever it takes to get wins in the next four games.”

At the forefront will be the need to play defense for 40 minutes, because as Jim Boeheim has declared since December and he once again repeated Monday, “If we win a game it’s because we’ve outscored somebody. We cannot get stops.”

Now by fluke of the schedule draw, the Orange gets its two annual rotating home and away partners (Louisville and Georgia Tech) in the final two weeks of a 10 week composite schedule, along with Duke of all teams. With one game down and in the loss column to UL, it’s time to regroup for the stretch.

“We’ve had a tough five games in whatever number of days (13), and we need some time (off),” Boeheim said after the 11th defeat. “I don’t know if we need this much time (six days), but we need some time off. This will be good for us.”

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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.