Orange Watch: Tapped 8th in preseason, Syracuse basketball can finish 5th in ACC

Hughes UNC
Feb. 29, 2020; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Elijah Hughes (33) shoots over North Carolina Tar Heels guard Brandon Robinson (4) during a 92-79 loss. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Item:  At 17-13 and 10-9 in the ACC, the six decade winning season streak for Syracuse basketball is intact no matter how the final games play out in the postseason.  That’s a lot to be proud of in Orange Nation, even if the season ends with disappointingly missing out on making the NCAA Tournament.  

Sure, it’s annually the NCAA Tournament or bust for Syracuse basketball.  As the Orange get ready for the regular season finale at Miami Saturday afternoon (4:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network), and barring something unexpected occurring at the ACC Tournament next week in Greensboro, the team will lament three scenarios that got away this year and will cost them an opportunity to be part of the Madness:

  • Not winning one of the two neutral court games in November against Oklahoma State and Penn State in New York, or splitting the Iowa home/Georgetown road games.
  • Going at least 3-1 against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech instead of each of the teams winning on the road in the four games.
  • Being on the other side of the coin in the crazy finish of the Clemson loss, and the never-before-seen in pregame warm-ups injury to conference leading scorer Elijah Hughes, minutes before the start of the N.C. State game and subsequent defeat.

Currently in a fifth place tie with Georgia Tech after Wednesday night’s ACC games, Syracuse, with a win Saturday at Miami, and a Georgia Tech loss at Clemson Friday night, would secure the fifth spot just behind NCAA-bound teams Louisville, Florida State, Virginia, and Duke.  That’s agonizingly close, but in a season of mediocrity around the country and with the four non-conference defeats, even going 11-9 in the ACC figures to come up short.

» Related: Syracuse dispatches Boston College to take over fifth place in ACC

The NCAA-less finish will also dampen one of Jim Boeheim’s better coaching jobs in the second half of the season to get SU close.  Picked eighth in October behind the likes of N.C. State and Notre Dame and behind the current top four plus North Carolina,, there was the inauspicious, cringing opening-game loss to Virginia scoring 34 total points.

Then came the injury loss of point guard Jalen Carey, the subsequent on-the-job training of his replacement Joe Girard, and a season-long timeline for big man Bourama Sidibe to begin to bloom, adding a critical element to an inside-outside offensive attack anchored by Hughes, Buddy Boeheim, Girard, and at times Marek Dolezaj.

Defensively, Boeheim repeatedly cajoled Sidibe, Dolezaj and newcomer Quincey Guerrier in both practices and games going into the second half of the season to stay out of foul trouble and concentrate on rebounding, and eventually we’ve seem a return on that investment of work.

“We’re not great,” Boeheim said after the Orange beat Boston College Tuesday night.  “But I think these guys have gotten everything put of themselves that we could ask from them this year.  We’re not quite good enough, bottom line.  But we’ll keep playing.”

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 679 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.