To call this season a disappointment is probably an understatement. Sitting at 9-7 in mid-January is far from ideal, but with a win over No. 18 Virginia, Syracuse’s postseason hopes suddenly have new life. While March is still a long ways off, the Orange has a chance to relevant in a wide-open ACC.
In case you haven’t noticed, college basketball is in the midst of a season of parity. No team has been able to hold onto the top spot in the country for long. Top 25 teams are falling left and right. Teams such as Duquesne, New Mexico and BYU are appearing as at-large bids in Bracketology. Men’s college hoops is in disarray. The ACC is no exception and that might make all the difference.
After picking up its second conference win, Syracuse joins the mob of ACC teams sitting at two or three conference victories. Nine of the league’s 15 teams are sitting in that group. Only Duke is undefeated. This will ultimately mean nothing if the Orange limps through this next five-game stretch, but we will get to that in a minute. The door is legitimately open for Syracuse to finish in the top five of the conference and make a case for reaching the NCAA Tournament.
I know better than to get ahead of myself, but let’s consider the competition. Is Syracuse better than Boston College or Clemson? How about Virginia Tech, Notre Dame or Pittsburgh? We cannot answer those questions until after the Orange plays all of them to close out January. The thing is, the question legitimately exists because of how wide open the ACC is this season. As bad as Syracuse was early on in the season, it seems like this team is closer to breaking through than at any point before the calendar read 2020.
Take the past three games for example. SU lost to Virginia Tech and Notre Dame by a combined five points before besting Virginia in overtime. In terms of building a resume, winning on the road against a ranked UVA team looks very good, no matter what the Cavaliers recent struggles may be. So outside of a blowout loss to open the season, the Orange has been close in conference play.
Beyond that, Elijah Hughes is finally starting to get some help offensively. Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III have posted double digits since non-conference play ended. Quincy Guerrier even chipped in 10 points off the bench against Notre Dame. This team is still about as shallow as it gets, but there are signs of actual progress. Usually, conference play is an absolute beast that grinds down Syracuse teams lacking depth. This year feels a bit different.
Getting back to the ACC, let’s just assume that Duke, Louisville, Florida State and Virginia are going to lock down the top four spots. That group I mentioned before is with whom Syracuse is competing for that fifth spot. You could toss NC State and Miami into the mix as well. In short, the ACC is a mess right now and that works in Syracuse’s favor. The committee has never taken fewer than six ACC school into the field of 68 since the Orange joined the conference. That is far from a guarantee, but it should provide fans with a bit of optimism.
Without much of a non-conference resume to lean on, being a middling ACC team probably wouldn’t be enough to go dancing in most years. In a down year for the conference, as long as it stays wide open, anything is possible.