Syracuse Basketball: ‘Cuse showing it just isn’t quite ready to hang with big boys

The Syracuse basketball post-season resume, thus far, doesn’t have bad losses but also doesn’t possess impressive triumphs.
The Syracuse basketball post-season resume, thus far, doesn’t have bad losses but also doesn’t possess impressive triumphs. / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse basketball is roughly half-way through its regular season during the 2023-24 campaign.

The Orange (11-5, 2-3 in the ACC) had gone 8-2 over its past 10 games before getting absolutely destroyed on Saturday afternoon by No. 7 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Tar Heels, by virtue of a 103-67 victory, dropped on the ‘Cuse its largest-ever setback in Atlantic Coast Conference competition since the Orange joined that league from the Big East Conference in the 2013-14 term.

In the current regular season, Syracuse basketball has played 16 games, with 15 more to go before the ACC Tournament and, hopefully, the NCAA Tournament.

The ‘Cuse post-season resume, thus far, doesn’t include any bad losses. But Syracuse basketball also doesn’t possess many impressive triumphs.

The Orange still has a chance to reach this spring’s Big Dance, after missing March Madness over the last two years. One thing at this juncture seems relatively clear, though: the ‘Cuse isn’t quite ready to hang with the top teams around the country and within the ACC.

Syracuse basketball has yet to deliver versus a top-flight foe.

Okay, here’s the deal with the Orange. The squad lost to Tennessee and Gonzaga at a neutral site in Hawaii last November. The other three setbacks for the ‘Cuse are on the road to Virginia, Duke and North Carolina.

To reiterate, none of those defeats are “bad.” In the latest Associated Press top-25 poll, every foe that Syracuse basketball has lost to was included, save for the Cavaliers, although it’s never easy to win in Charlottesville, Va., against UVA’s excellent defense.

When the ‘Cuse battled Tennessee, Gonzaga, Virginia and Duke, the Orange was able to hang around in each of those games for a while. On Saturday afternoon at UNC, that was not the case, as the Tar Heels pretty much handled Syracuse basketball from start to finish.

I had assumed it would prove extremely difficult for the Orange to stun North Carolina inside the loud Dean E. Smith Center. UNC is historically a bad match-up for Syracuse basketball, given the Tar Heels' prowess on the glass.

Junior center Naheem McLeod being unavailable made it even more challenging for the ‘Cuse to potentially knock off North Carolina, and the Tar Heels ended up prevailing in a landslide.

In the Orange’s five losses, it has fallen by at least 17 points in each game, and by a combined 114 points, or 22.8 points per setback.

To reiterate, these are all high-quality opponents, and all these results occurred on the road or on neutral floors. Still, not being able to compete with better competition, to me, suggests that while the ‘Cuse can be a good team in 2023-24, with some nice moments, it’s not ready to be a great team.

I hope that I’m wrong with my assessment. Entering its ACC affair at UNC, the Orange had an NCAA NET ranking of No. 75.

Syracuse basketball, not too long ago, had appeared in one bracketology projection from CBS Sports, but the ‘Cuse now is definitely outside the proverbial bubble.

Its neutral-site win over Oregon in mid-December hovers around a quadrant-one success, but other than that, Syracuse basketball has a post-reason resume that leaves a lot to be desired.

It has home wins over foes such as Colgate, Cornell, LSU, Pittsburgh and Boston College, and a road victory over Georgetown. None of those triumphs, however, are tremendously impressive.

What’s more, the ACC as a whole isn’t looking all that awesome these days. The Tar Heels are legit, and Duke appears to be perhaps UNC’s biggest threat for a league regular-season title.

Clemson has fallen off a bit. Miami recently suffered a bad loss. Others, including N.C. State, Wake Forest and Virginia, are bubble teams right now.

So how many opportunities for quadrant-one victories will the ‘Cuse have moving forward? That remains to be seen, as NET rankings fluctuate day to day.

I am not sitting here and saying that the Orange is a bad team. Far from it. Syracuse basketball looks better, by and large, in 2023-24 than it has over the past two years.

I still think the future is bright under first-year head coach Adrian Autry. Yet for the time being anyway, the ‘Cuse has shown that it isn’t quite able to compete with the big boys in college basketball.

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