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Recent NCAA Tournament Bids Have Been Close Calls for the Syracuse Orange

Posted on March 18, 2021 by Chris Kent

Syracuse reached The Final Four in men’s basketball in 2016. Since then, the Orange have lived on the bubble annually in determining their NCAA Tournament fate. This year was no different as Syracuse had to sweat it out again on selection sunday. A collective sigh of relief for the players, coaches, and all of Orange Nation was released on Sunday March 14 when Syracuse drew the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region where they will meet No. 6 seed San Diego State on Friday March 19 at 9:40 pm in Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Orange are 16-9 overall and 9-7 in the ACC where they finished eighth. San Diego State won the Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship as the top seed and is 23-4 overall, 14-3 in the MWC.

History has shown Syracuse plays some of its’ best basketball in the month of March.

Like recent seasons, Syracuse did just enough to garner an NCAA bid. This narrative was made more difficult in college basketball this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic which caused games to be cancelled or shuffled around due to positive tests within programs. Not all the cancelled games were able to be rescheduled. Depending on who the cancelled games were against, some teams missed out on competing for quad one wins. Although Louisville did not make the NCAA field, the Orange missed two games against the Cardinals (13-7, 8-5) and its’ only game against Florida State (16-6, 11-4) this season. Both those schools stood above Syracuse in the ACC standings throughout the season and Florida State reached the ACC Tournament Championship game. That put pressure on the Orange late in the season. After losing at Georgia Tech on Feb. 27, Syracuse ended the regular season with two straight wins over North Carolina and Clemson, both of which made the field of 68 and finished ahead of the Orange in the final ACC standings. Syracuse added on a solid win over North Carolina State in the second round of the ACC Tournament before a 3-pointer at the buzzer ended their chance to upset top-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals. The Orange had to wait it out over three days and ultimately got in.

Watching selection sunday in nervous fashion has been a trend for Syracuse over the last five years. Not all of them have left the Orange in bliss. Here is a look at their last five seasons and how selection sunday has been nothing short of a harrowing experience for Syracuse.

2016-17

The Orange went only 8-5 in non-conference play during the regular season. Syracuse lost important games against former Big East rivals Connecticut, Georgetown, and St. Johns. The Orange also lost to Wisconsin for the second straight season in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge while also falling 64-50 in the championship game of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational to South Carolina which reached The Final Four that season. An 84-66 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 21 dropped Syracuse to 3-4 in the ACC putting them in a precarious position not quite halfway through conference play. Five straight wins followed including victories over No. 6 Florida State and No. 9 Virginia in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome, raising its’ postseason profile.

John Gillon’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse past Duke in 2017.

However three straight losses followed before a game-winning 3-pointer by John Gillon beat the buzzer to lift the Orange over No. 10 Duke on Feb. 22. A loss at Louisville before a home win over Georgia Tech followed to end the regular season as Syracuse finished tied for seventh place in the ACC at 10-8. The Orange were one and done in the ACC Tournament after losing to Miami 62-57 in the second round. Syracuse ended up receiving an NIT bid and beat UNC-Greensboro before falling to Ole Miss to complete a 19-15 season.

2017-18

The Orange finished the regular season 19-12 and tied for 10th place in the ACC at 8-10. Wins over Maryland in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and Connecticut in the Jimmy V. Classic boosted Syracuse’s NCAA resume by helping to offset a 76-60 loss to Kansas in the Hoophall Miami Invitational in early December. Despite a 2-4 finish to the regular season which included consecutive losses to No. 10 North Carolina and No .5 Duke, the Orange rebounded with a win over No. 18 Clemson in its’ regular-season finale. Syracuse then won its first-ever ACC Tournament game with a victory over Wake Forest in the first round before losing to North Carolina in the second round. At 20-13, the Orange received a No. 11 seed in the NCAA’s Midwest Region and beat Arizona State in The First Four. They then beat TCU and Michigan State before losing 69-65 to Duke in the sweet sixteen.

2018-19

Announcing that he would return for his junior season in the summer, Syracuse shooting guard Tyus Battle gave Orange fans reason to believe they would be in good hands. After suffering back-to-back losses to Connecticut and Oregon in the 2K Classic, Syracuse answered with a 7-2 surge to close out 2018 and head into ACC play at 9-4. The surge continued as the Orange opened conference play 5-1 which included a 95-91 overtime win at No. 1 Duke in mid-January. Battle’s 32 points lead Syracuse and were the most points ever scored by a Syracuse player against Duke.

Tyus Battle scored 32 points for the Orange in their overtime win at No. 1 Duke in 2019.

The Orange then went 4-4 over its’ next eight games putting them at 9-5 in the ACC with four to play. Syracuse closed the regular season 1-3, tying for sixth place in the ACC at 10-8. The Orange then beat Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC Tournament before losing to Duke in the quarterfinals. An NCAA Tournament berth followed as Syracuse drew the No. 8 seed in the West Region where they fell to Baylor 78-69 in the first round.

2019-20

The season started difficult for the Orange and ended just like every other team. An abrupt ending to the conference tournaments during the middle of championship week was followed by the NCAA’s decision to cancel the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic. The news was disappointing to all of college basketball but was much more shocking to the entire world as 2020 was rapidly changing. Since the pandemic did not affect the regular season, there was still the usual time for teams to build an NCAA worthy profile. Syracuse missed out on that right out of the gates falling 48-34 to defending national champion Virginia in its’ season-opener in the Carrier Dome. Although four straight wins followed, back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Penn State in the NIT Season Tipoff hurt the Orange. Those defeats were part of four losses in five games, the other ones coming to Iowa and Georgetown. Home losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech followed leaving Syracuse at 1-3 in the ACC.

Small forward Elijah Hughes did much to keep Syracuse alive for an NCAA Tournament Bid in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic caused it to be cancelled.

The Orange then turned things around with a five-game winning streak. The surge started with a 63-55 overtime win at Virginia on Jan. 11. Syracuse then hit a wall with five losses in six games over the middle part of the conference schedule. The Orange bounced back by closing the regular season 3-2. A win over North Carolina followed in the second round of the ACC Tournament before the rest of the tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic. Small forward Elijah Hughes, a redshirt junior, became more of a focal point for Syracuse following the early departures of Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett from the 2018-19 season. Hughes answered the challenge, leading the Orange with 19.0 points-per-game while 6-6 sophomore Buddy Boeheim emerged in the starting lineup at shooting guard and lead the team from beyond the 3-point line with 37.0 percent shooting (97-for-262).

2020-21

Challenges of player defections from the previous season, protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic to include testing, and playing mostly without fans made for a season like no other in 2020-21. A positive COVID-19 test within the Syracuse program caused a pause of all basketball related activities in the middle of November. The Orange also had to adjust from the losses of leading scorer Elijah Hughes – who declared for the NBA Draft – along with guards Jalen Carey, Brycen Goodine, and Howard Washington who all transferred at the end of the 2019-20 season leaving Syracuse short on depth. With smaller room for error, the Orange would be relying heavily on returning starters Quincy Guerrier, Marek Dolezaj, Joe Girard III, and Buddy Boeheim. Syracuse returned from its’ COVID pause in time to beat Bryant in its’ season-opener on Nov. 27. The Orange opened the season 6-1 with the only loss coming at Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Syracuse had a back-and-forth season as their longest winning streak was three games. Wins over then No. 16 Virginia Tech on Jan. 23 along with home victories over North Carolina and Clemson in the final week of the regular season saved the Orange in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.

Buddy Boeheim has been a force for Syracuse behind his accurate shooting and experience.

In the ACC Tournament, Syracuse beat North Carolina State 89-68 in the second round before taking top-seeded Virginia to the wire in the quarterfinals in a 72-69 loss on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Boeheim, a junior, garnered First Team All-ACC Tournament Team honors after scoring 58 points over two games including a career high 31 against Virginia. Boeheim shot 11-for-20 on 3-pointers over the two tournament games. Between the afternoon of their loss to Virginia in Greensboro and Sunday’s announcement of the NCAA field, the Orange was competing with the likes of Drake, Colorado State, and Boise State for a bid. In the end, Syracuse got in. Drake got in as an 11 seed and is playing in the First Four while Colorado State and Boise State did not receive a bid.

The Orange have flown under the radar this season as they went back and forth in the won-loss column. However since the calendar has changed to March, the Orange have been playing their best basketball of the season. This bodes well as March Madness is set to take off. The vaunted 2-3 zone is always a staple of Syracuse. If the zone clamps down on opponents and the Orange shooters convert at an above average rate, Syracuse could win some games in the tournament.

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