There are balancing acts, and then there is Syracuse basketball. The last few years of living on the bubble has conditioned the fans to study KenPom numbers and define Quad 1 wins. After a win over NC State in Greensboro, and a buzzer-beater loss to Virginia, SU straddles in and out with one leg firmly on either side of this horse.
The good? Syracuse got two needed wins at the end of the regular season to give the Orange a fighting chance in the ACC Tournament. Had it lost either (or both) of those games, there would likely have been no path to a berth. That slid them into “First Four Out.”
The NC State matchup was a likely elimination game, loser goes home, winner’s hope still flickers. The Orange won that too, and in impressive fashion. Other schools ahead of SU also fell, like Xavier, sliding them into the “Last Four In.”
Against Virginia a blowout loss would’ve been hard to overcome. It would’ve made clear SU isn’t in the stratosphere of the elite of the ACC, even on a neutral court. Instead, the Orange owned an 11-point lead in the first half and gutted out a full 40 minutes against the ACC regular season champ to a stare down. The Cavs won on a buzzer beater, but the difference in this game was a three at the horn by a recent NCAA champion and the league’s top-seed. A Selection Committee member has to be impressed with that.
“We did what we needed to do this year… It’s not up to me,” Jim Boeheim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, and I don’t think anybody’s mind that follows the sport and knows what they’re doing.”
Jim Boeheim made his case following the game, which has become a rite of spring. His son was outstanding with 31 points, just a day after hitting for 27. And if players matter in the argument over resumes, SU has a standout who can lift a team to a March run.
Did SU do enough? Going into the day both ESPN’s Bracketology and FOX Sports/Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcey had SU in. A buzzer-beater loss to the ACC’s top-seed shouldn’t change that. It may, in fact, solidify it. Syracuse just needs to hope there aren’t Cinderellas that steal automatic bids.
Verdict: Syracuse is one of the last teams in and plays in the First Four next week.