Syracuse Basketball: Now is the time to go on a run and enter Big Dance conversation

Syracuse basketball has a three-game home stand, and now is the time for head coach Adrian Autry and his team to go on a run.
Syracuse basketball has a three-game home stand, and now is the time for head coach Adrian Autry and his team to go on a run. / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As Syracuse basketball prepared to host Miami on Saturday afternoon at the JMA Wireless Dome, the Orange sits at 12-5 overall and 3-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

The ‘Cuse isn’t a great team. It’s an emerging one, though. The Orange isn’t a top-25 team or a squad that is currently projected to make this spring’s NCAA Tournament.

However, now is the time for the ‘Cuse to make a run and enter the conversation for a possible bid to the 2024 Big Dance after missing March Madness in each of the past two seasons.

First-year head coach Adrian Autry, to me, has done a solid job to date at the helm of the Orange. He has an extremely large challenge in trying to “replace” legendary Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, and Autry is doing what he said he would do prior to the 2023-24 stanza commencing.

Namely, Autry is utilizing more man-to-man defense than zone. He’s relying on a deep bench. He’s having his guys play at an up-tempo pace, getting out in transition after defensive rebounds, deflections and/or steals.

Syracuse basketball, now, needs to grab momentum for a run at a Big Dance berth.

Undeniably, the ‘Cuse is still a work in progress. There are nine sophomores on the roster. Syracuse basketball is a so-so shooting unit, particularly from beyond the arc, the defense is inconsistent, and rebounding is sometimes a concerning statistic for this group.

However, let’s keep in mind a few things. Sophomore wing Chance Westry, a transfer from Auburn, is a versatile guard/small forward who has yet to play in 2023-24 due to injury.

Autry recently said that starting center Naheem McLeod, a junior who transferred in from Florida State, is out for the rest of this season after undergoing foot surgery.

Junior forward Benny Williams, who we all hoped would make a big leap this term, has missed some time due to off-the-court stuff.

This relatively young roster endured a fairly brutal non-conference schedule, with several contests on neutral floors and on the road (yes, the ‘Cuse leaves the state of New York during its out-of-conference slate – shocking, right?). Even with this challenging non-conference schedule, Syracuse basketball sported a solid 9-2 mark.

The first portion of the Orange’s ACC calendar included road dates at Virginia, Duke and North Carolina, along with a two-game series versus Pittsburgh.

As I’ve discussed ad nauseam of late, both in my columns for Inside The Loud House as well as during my weekly interview on The Score 1260, the ‘Cuse doesn’t have any “bad” losses, although all of its setbacks were by wide margins.

On the flip side, Syracuse basketball is still in search of more high-quality victories. Its road triumph over the Panthers earlier this week could hover around a quadrant-one success, depending on what Pitt’s NCAA NET ranking ultimately entails.

The same goes for the Orange’s mid-December defeat of Pac-12 Conference member Oregon at a neutral site. But, unfortunately, the vast majority of wins so far for the ‘Cuse in 2023-24 don’t move the needle a ton as far as the team’s post-season resume.

Part of the issue is that, frankly, the ACC doesn’t seem all that awesome these days. Duke and North Carolina are top-10 squads. And the Orange will have another crack at the Tar Heels in the near future.

The remainder of the ACC, to me, is still somewhat of a mystery. Miami, a Final Four participant last season, has lost a few of late. Same goes for Clemson, which started out hot this term.

Florida State is surging a bit. I’m not sure at this juncture whether I’m “sold” or not on league schools such as Virginia, Wake Forest and N.C. State, among others.

What this tells me is two-fold. Number one, Syracuse basketball could – I repeat, could – grab a high placement in the ACC’s pecking order if it piles up wins.

Secondly, as it pertains to the Orange’s 14 remaining regular-season games, there may not be a lot of opportunities for the ‘Cuse to notch quadrant-one victories. For context, though, teams’ respective NET rankings will fluctuate from day to day and week to week.

Coming up for Syracuse basketball is back-to-back-to-back home games against Miami, Florida State and N.C. State, followed by the Orange heading to Boston College.

If the ‘Cuse were able to go 4-0 in this stretch, that would put the team at 16-5 overall and 7-3 in the ACC. I continue to maintain that Syracuse basketball will need at least 20 regular-season wins, if not 21 to 22, and at least a victory or two in the ACC Tournament to have a realistic shot of potentially hearing its name called on Selection Sunday.

The Orange will still have a home date with UNC, a two-game set with Clemson, and games against Wake Forest and others coming up.

To me, Syracuse basketball may have turned a slight corner in the recent win at Pittsburgh. Last weekend, the ‘Cuse got punched in the gut at North Carolina, and then the Orange responded by shooting lights out from deep and defeating long-time rival Pitt by double-digits in a hostile environment.

That, to me, showed the character and grit of this Syracuse basketball 2023-24 roster.

With McLeod out, that does concern me regarding the rebounding arena. And Syracuse basketball players have to be more consistent in limiting their turnovers and shooting at a good clip from the field.

As I said earlier, at present, the Orange isn’t a top-25 team, nor is it a squad that is forecast to make March Madness. But I believe Autry has his guys headed in a positive direction, and now is the time for the ‘Cuse to go on a run, rack up some wins, and enter those bracketology projections.

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