Syracuse Basketball: What 'Cuse must do in ACC Tournament to have shot at Big Dance

Syracuse basketball has to do serious damage in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at March Madness. Here's a possible path.
Syracuse basketball has to do serious damage in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at March Madness. Here's a possible path. / Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse basketball could just go out and win this week’s ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C., to earn an automatic bid to the upcoming Big Dance.

That would certainly please ‘Cuse coaches, players and the fan base. Naturally, that’s a really tall ask.

The chatter seems to be that the Orange (20-11, 11-9 in the ACC) likely has to win the 2024 ACC Tournament to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. What if the No. 7 seed ‘Cuse notches several quadrant-one victories on the way to the event’s championship game, and then loses in the final to, say, No. 1 seed North Carolina by a few points?

Could Syracuse basketball sneak into March Madness under that sort of scenario? Again, maybe. Maybe not. What I do feel comfortable in prognosticating is that the Orange will have to triumph in multiple ACC tourney contests to further include the ‘Cuse in bubble talk.

Let’s play the “what-if” game for Syracuse basketball this week in D.C.

Okay, here’s the deal. The Orange needs more quadrant-one victories for its post-season resume. And not just one; several in quad one.

The ACC Tournament is a neutral site for its participants. This means that Syracuse basketball would have to defeat foes ranked at No. 50 or better in the NCAA NET rankings.

These NET rankings ebb and flow, but when I wrote this article on Sunday, there were multiple ACC squads in the top 50 or higher on both sides of the ACC Tournament bracket.

Have a look:
No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 7 in NET
No. 4 seed Pittsburgh, No. 44 in NET
No. 5 seed Wake Forest, No. 37 in NET

No. 2 seed Duke, No. 10 in NET
No. 3 seed Virginia, No. 51 in NET (just outside quadrant one)
No. 6 seed Clemson, No. 27 in NET

At the time of this writing, the Orange’s NET was No. 79. It had two quadrant-one successes, at home versus UNC and at Pittsburgh. In quadrant one and quadrant two, the ‘Cuse is a combined 6-10.

The Orange has just one quadrant-three setback, at home to Florida State. FSU would have to jump up a lot, from its current No. 94 to at least No. 75, for this to move to quadrant two.

Beyond winning its own actual games, the ‘Cuse doesn’t have much going on as it pertains to former opponents prevailing in post-season conference tournaments to bump up prior SU wins into quadrant one.

The two “best” candidates are the Syracuse basketball neutral-floor conquest of Oregon as well as a road victory over N.C. State. But the Ducks were at No. 68 in the NET and would have to move into the top 50.

I can’t see that happening unless Oregon goes on a long run in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, which I guess could happen.

At No. 80 in the NET, if the Wolfpack moved into the top 75, the Orange’s victory at N.C. State would go to quad one. But the issue here is that the ‘Cuse, in its first ACC Tournament game, will either play the No. 10 seed Wolfpack or the No. 15 seed Louisville.

Ordinarily, we’d be rooting for N.C. State to win ACC Tournament affairs to boost its NET ranking, but Syracuse basketball can’t fall to the Wolfpack, obviously.

If N.C. State beats Louisville, which I expect to occur, and then the ‘Cuse takes care of the Wolfpack, that’s a quadrant-two win for Syracuse basketball.

The Orange would then face No. 2 seed Duke. The Blue Devils, in their only 2023-24 regular-season meeting, crushed the ‘Cuse at home.

The ‘Cuse, to be fair, is playing much better of late than it was earlier in this campaign. So let’s say Syracuse basketball stuns Duke for a quadrant-one triumph.

In the semifinals, the Orange could then square off against either the No. 3 seed Virginia or the No. 6 seed Clemson. In the regular season, UVA smoked SU at home, while the Tigers swept a two-game set with the ‘Cuse.

Again, hypothetically speaking, let’s say that Virginia is inside the top 50, and Syracuse basketball shocks either the Cavaliers or Clemson for another quadrant-one conquest.

This would put the Orange in the championship game, likely against North Carolina, but maybe Pitt or Wake Forest. All are quad-one chances for the ‘Cuse.

Let’s say that Syracuse basketball falls in the title contest for a quadrant-one setback, but the Orange loses in a tightly fought affair.

Prior to the ACC Tournament, the ‘Cuse was 2-8 in quadrant one and 4-2 in quadrant two.

Under my totally hypothetical scenario above, Syracuse basketball would add a quadrant-two victory, while going 2-1 in quadrant one.

That pushes the Orange to 4-9 in quadrant one and 5-2 in quadrant two, for a combined record of 9-11 in quadrant one/two. Would that put Syracuse basketball on the bubble, or would the ‘Cuse still have to win the ACC Tournament?

Candidly, I have no idea. But I do adamantly believe that, at a minimum, the Orange will have to reach Saturday night’s championship bout of the 2024 ACC Tournament to merit any sort of discussion for this season’s Big Dance.

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