Orange Watch: Next 10 games will decide postseason path for Syracuse basketball

Marek Dolezaj
Feb. 1, 2020; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Marek Dolezaj speaks with reporters following a 97-88 loss to the Duke Blue Devils. Mandatory Credit: Brad Bierman, The Juice Online.

Item: There were a lot of frustrating sighs among the Syracuse players in the postgame locker room scene (which was closed to the media for an agonizing 25 minute “cooling off” period) late Saturday night, following the failed comeback against Duke to drop the Orange record to 13-9, 6-5. Perhaps the most positive note from all being interviewed was that there was a week off to put the season back into perspective, before the final blitz of the ACC regular season.

It’s getting sort of warm again in the non-losing season streak seat, one 50 years in the making.

By that we mean that with 13 victories, SU needs to win just three more games to finish no worse than 16-16 (with a loss in the ACC Tourney opening round). Taking an objective look at the schedule there certainly appears to be more than three wins amongst a combination of home games with Wake Forest, N.C. State, and Georgia Tech, road games at Pittsburgh, and B.C., and a neutral court game in the tournament at Greensboro.

But certainly not much room for error, with acknowledgment of discounting a potential unexpected strong showing and upset win against teams Syracuse may the decided underdog. A 16-16 finish would also obviously leave zero margin if SU were to make the NIT and lose in the first-round and finish-off the half-century winning streak.

“We’re focusing on getting some rest, then the next game,” Marek Dolezaj succinctly summed up after his career-high 22-point performance wasn’t enough to win, but drew specific praise from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski after his team’s 97-88 win. “A week off to let our injuries (heal), and work on our defensive and offensive (game plans).”

» Related: Duke holds off feisty Syracuse team down the stretch

That, a little better shooting accuracy consistency from big guns Elijah Hughes, Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard, and spreading out the 15 fouls afforded to Dolezaj and his big man mates Bourama Sidibe and Quincey Guerrier. If only it were that simple.

“For us to win, Elijah has to shoot better from three (than vs. Duke), Buddy’s got to make a couple of more, Joe’s got to make a couple more,” Jim Boeheim said after his all-time record against good friend Coach K dropped to 5-9. “I think we’re getting better from a physical standpoint (underneath). “We’re hanging in there for the physical strength that we have. Obviously, that’s not a strength of ours, down low we have trouble with big guys.”

Syracuse is giving up 68-points a game in ACC play, while averaging 72 on offense with its 6-5 league record. While that mark still puts the ’Cuse just ½ game behind Virginia for fourth place, SU also has just one win more than five teams right behind them in the standings and they have games remaining against a total of seven teams below them in the current standings.

“Look, we just played our seventh game in 20 days, or something like that (21 days),” Boeheim said when asked about what’s next for this team.

“That’s a game every three days. We have two or three guys playing 40 minutes, because they have to for us to have a chance to win. This will be a good time for them to regroup (and) rest. We’ll work on some things, refine some things, but we have to play at least at this level (four games above .500), or a little better as we go forward.”

To also comfortably ensure the pride that accompanies Syracuse basketball’s winning-season streak stays intact.

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 640 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.