NCAA Basketball

Syracuse basketball heads into season-defining ACC play

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team begins the most important stretch of basketball when it hosts the North Carolina Tar Heels tonight from the JMA Wireless Dome. Syracuse has shown signs of improvement with its freshmen growing throughout the year, but as part of what has become a signature non-starter non-conference show, the Orange missed early-season opportunities.

Syracuse has worked its way to a respectable 13-7 (6-3) record, but lacks the marquee wins needed to be considered in the NCAA Tournament race that Jim Boeheim said Syracuse would be in at the beginning of ​the season. If Syracuse is going to push into that discussion, the time is near.

“I like these guys. I think they’re going to get better. My whole goal with coaching this year was to get this group in here, get their feet wet, see how much better they can get throughout the year,” Jim Boeheim said after the Notre Dame game on Jan. 14.

To its credit, the Orange haven’t lost to anyone they shouldn’t have in the league. But a 1-5 record that is indistinguishable in the first two quadrants leaves a lot to be desired on the resume. In league play, Quadrant 1 options against Virginia and Miami have gone begging.

Of course, one of the unique aspects of college basketball is that teams are never completely out of the hunt until they lose in conference tournaments. In a down year in the league — with the usual ACC powers taking a step back — the automatic spot for the field of 68 is up for grabs. But let’s talk in terms of a big game.

NET, as a refresher, is the main ranking tool the 12-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to rank teams, replacing the RPI beginning in the 2018-19 season.

As a refresher, here’s how the quadrant system breaks down by NET:

Quadrant 1: Home (1-30), Neutral (1-50), Away (1-75)

Quadrant 2: Home (31-75), Neutral (51-100), Away (76-135)

Quadrant 3: Home (76-160), Neutral (101-200), Away (136-240)

Quadrant 4: Home (161-363), Neutral (201-363), Away (241-363)

Syracuse has five quadrant one games remaining and two quadrant two opponents, and it will need to win more than just a couple of those to get into the discussion. See Syracuse’s remaining schedule below:

Home opponents in colored text, away opponents colored in background fill

Remember, NET rankings are not static, meaning opponents can move between quadrants based on ongoing results. The timing of when the opponents were played does not matter when considering the fluid nature of the NET rankings.

For example, Syracuse’s loss to Bryant is currently quadrant four based on Bryant’s NET of 168. Syracuse would like Bryant to continue to win to improve his NET to 160 or better to move this loss to quadrant three.

For color, see Syracuse’s team sheet categorized by NET below.

Syracuse team sheet based on NET

Syracuse could work itself just outside of tournament contention starting with a pair of wins this week, but the team is still nowhere near most bubble teams, which rank in the 30-50 range in the NET. That, and bubble teams have more meat on their legs when it comes to analytics, quality wins and Strength of Schedule (SOS) than Syracuse.

For example, Kentucky is only 1-5 in quadrant one games, but 2-0 in quadrant two. West Virginia is 3-8 in quadrant one and 0-0 in quadrant two, but has an SOS of six. New Mexico has an SOS of 114 and a pair of quadrant three losses, but is a flawless 5-0 in quadrant one and two games. Syracuse still needs to catch up on the rest of the bubble.

“We’re still a long way from being a good team, which is what I would expect with so many young guys,” Boeheim said. “We have a tough road ahead of us. We know that.”

The violent road begins now. Without picking up two of the next three games, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Syracuse doesn’t need to win six or seven of its last eight games to be in the hunt. These next three games will determine what kind of run Syracuse can make to end the season.

“We’re still in a hole,” Boeheim said. “You just have to keep digging.”

Whether Syracuse climbs out or digs a deeper hole will be decided in the next few games.

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