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After being on the bubble for the past month, Syracuse earned an NCAA Tournament bid Sunday while avoiding a play-in game. Its March Madness run begins Friday against No. 6 seed San Diego State.
SU’s window to make the NCAA Tournament nearly closed on Feb. 27, when SU fell to Georgia Tech. It had to win every remaining regular season game, and more in the ACC Tournament, to have a shot at March Madness.
Now, SU (16-9, 9-7 Atlantic Coast) is going dancing. Syracuse received one of 37 at-large bids, entering the tournament as a No. 11 seed. It’s SU’s third tournament berth since its run to the 2016 Final Four and coach Jim Boeheim’s 35th in 45 years.
When Boeheim addressed reporters after the Selection Show, he sometimes chuckled with responses.
“I wasn’t as worried as a couple times that we’ve been on the bubble,” Boeheim said. “We seemed to be getting indications. When (ESPN bracketologist) Joe Lunardi puts us up there, we must be OK because he never does. I felt a little bit better, but then as it went on and Georgia Tech was a (No. 9 seed), I was a little worried. I was worried.”
Since the Georgia Tech loss, Syracuse has fed off a red-hot Buddy Boeheim — the junior’s averaging 25.2 points per game in March — and a much more energized defense. The Orange held UNC, Clemson and NC State to below 40% shooting from the field.
“I just think we’re moving better on offense, we’re getting each other open,” Buddy said after the Selection Show. “We’re looking out for each other. We’re setting screens. I think defensively, our intensity’s been a lot better. We’re doing really good inside, limiting big guys, and everyone’s rebounding, and we’re getting out on shooters better.”
Despite finishing with three consecutive wins and a loss to Virginia at the buzzer, Syracuse remained on the bubble because of its lack of Quadrant 1 wins. SU finished the year 1-7 in Quadrant 1 tilts — the win coming at North Carolina State — though Boeheim emphasized that most of those games came on the road. Tight wins early in the season against nonconference foes Bryant, Northeastern and Buffalo kept SU without a potentially disqualifying loss.
Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament chances were largely out of its control after the Virginia loss on Thursday. As a bubble team, SU was susceptible to getting knocked out by “bid thieves” — teams that otherwise wouldn’t have made the tournament but earned automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments. Georgetown shocked the Big East and Oregon State, making a surprise run through the Pac-12, but Cincinnati came up short in the American Athletic championship.
With those results, the Orange held onto a spot. SU heads to Indiana ranked 40th in the NET Rankings, 33rd in ESPN’s basketball power index and 41st in KenPom’s efficiency rating. After the Orange’s buzzer-beater loss to the Cavaliers, Boeheim remained confident his team belonged in Indiana.
“If you watch us play today and you don’t think we’re a tournament team, or watched us yesterday — I mean, we’re a good team,” Boeheim said in Greensboro. “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.”
The selection committee agreed. SU’s recent play proved its worth, and its reputation as a tough team in March will once again be tested, first against San Diego State.
The Aztecs, winners of 14 straight games and Mountain West champions, will enter the first round matchup as a favorite. SDSU is ranked 20th in KenPom efficiency, including the 11th-ranked defense. The most efficient defense Syracuse played was 15th-ranked North Carolina, which split its season series with SU.
Led by senior forward Matt Mitchell (15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds per game), SDSU held opponents to 60.6 points per contest. Boeheim called the Aztecs a “tough draw” and said he’s seen them play on TV a couple of times.
“It’s a real tough challenge for us, but from where we were, we’re happy to have the challenge ahead of us,” Boeheim said. “Very happy.”
The post Going dancing: Syracuse makes the 2021 NCAA Tournament as No. 11 seed appeared first on The Daily Orange.