Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reeling Syracuse Needs Monday Night Win

It was on Jan. 15 that the Syracuse men’s basketball team pushed its record to a perfect 18-0 after a 15-point dismantling of Cincinnati. Ranked fourth in the country and playing as well as anyone in the country, Jim Boeheim’s Orange-clad group had become a chic pick to make a Final Four push come March.

But in the four weeks after the Orange’s big win over the Bearcats, Syracuse has fallen on such hard times that it seems reasonable to suggest that the Orange are no longer even a tournament lock. Since the home win over Cincinnati — Syracuse’s most recent home win, by the way — Boeheim’s bunch have gone 2-6 and fallen into ninth place in the Big East.

It was just a handful of years ago that a different orange-clad team started a season 17-0 and failed to make the NCAA tournament; that time, it was the Clemson Tigers of the ACC who saw their great start end in a final record of 21-10 and an invitation to the NIT.

Remember: The NCAA tournament selection committee takes a long, hard look at how teams fared in the final stretch of the regular season. A great start can easily be undone by a wretched finish in the committee’s eyes.

However, it still is only mid-February which means that Syracuse has more than enough time to turn this around. So, let’s break this down a little bit, starting with the positives …
  • As it stands now, people like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi were giving Syracuse a four-seed as recently as Friday and the team is a solid No. 20 in the RPI. The Orange has 10 quality wins, three of which came against top-30 teams in the RPI.
  • Syracuse has five more regular season games, two of which are against teams — Georgetown and Villanova — that could give the Orange a nice high-profile win. Two of the remaining three games — home meetings with DePaul and Rutgers — are very winnable games for Syracuse.
  • Playing in the Big East has its benefits, as after the regular season the Orange will get to wipe the slate clean and take a crack at registering multiple quality wins in the conference’s postseason tournament.  
But now for the negatives …
  • Those two remaining chances for high-profile regular season wins will both come on the road against clubs who A) are playing much better than Syracuse right now and B) both beat the Orange in the Carrier Dome.
  • The highest number of teams to ever make the tournament from one conference? Eight. The Big East seems a lock to get at least nine, maybe 10, spots this season in the Big Dance thanks to the tournament’s expansion to 68 teams, but Syracuse currently sits in ninth in conference play. That certainly puts them on the bubble.
  • Playing in the Big East also has its negatives. It’s not far-fetched to see a sliding Syracuse find itself out of the conference tournament before the quarterfinal round even starts. As it stands now with Syracuse in ninth place — albeit, just out of eighth place by percentage points — the Orange would need to win two games to make it to the final eight of the Big East’s postseason.
So all of this brings me to the one game I have not mentioned yet — Syracuse’s home affair on Monday night against West Virginia. From my figuring, Monday night’s game is the must-win for the Orange, since it is the team’s best remaining chance to add a top-30 win to its resume. In my opinion, if they defeat West Virginia on Monday night the Orange are in the tournament and will be no worse than a fifth seed; however, a loss to the Mountaineers will put Syracuse in extreme (postseason) peril.

Here’s why: Let’s say Syracuse loses on Monday night, takes care of business against Rutgers, drops both road games against Georgetown and Villanova, and easily dispatches of DePaul; the Orange then fall out of the Big East Tournament in the second round at the hands of someone like St. Johns or UConn.

Such a (likely) hypothetical finish to the Orange’s season would leave Syracuse with a 23-10 record on the season, but only one meaningful win (UConn on Feb. 2) in the season’s final two months. Furthermore, Syracuse would enter Selection Sunday as the losers of 10 of its final 15 games.   

My hunch is that Syracuse takes care of business on Monday night and knocks off West Virginia at the Carrier Dome. Though sliding, it’s tough to envision the Orange losing a fourth straight home game. But, if the clock hits all zeros on Monday night and the scoreboard is showing a victory for the visitors, any Orange-fan panic will not be undeserved.
--Michael Kelly

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home