Syracuse spent a large chunk of the season undefeated and as arguably the favorite to win a national championship.
The Orange were 20-0 before center Fab Melo served a three-game suspension. During that span, they suffered their first loss. They won another 11 consecutive games before falling in the Big East tournament.
They faced off today against an incredibly game No. 16 seed in UNC-Asheville.
Fab Melo was out of the lineup once again, seriously hindering the title hopes of the Orange. Losing the Big East defensive player of the year is tough to overcome, but Syracuse took the first step today, no matter how ugly it was.
Here is what we learned from its performance today.
The Bulldogs did damage from outside.
Syracuse is notorious for its 2-3 zone defense. Some think it allows teams the opportunity to hit threes over the top of it.
That was the case today, as UNC-Asheville hit 8-of-23 from deep. The 34.8 percent isn't great, but it's slightly more efficient than hitting 50 percent from inside the arc.
Also, UNCA reached that percentage with Matt Dickey going 0-for-9. That left the rest of the team at 8-of-14. Syracuse needs to defend the arc better.
Syracuse wasn't exactly sharp offensively today. Going against the smallest team in the tournament, it should have had an easier time.
The Orange shot just 44.6 percent from the field and a measly 21.8 percent from deep. Their lack of scoring allowed the Bulldogs to hang around far too long.
What saved Syracuse today was rebounding just about half of its missed shots, leading to precious extra possessions. If UNCA could have been a little more competitive on the offensive glass, it could have been an embarrassing result.
Dion Waiters came off the bench as always and immediately heated up the Syracuse offense.
He scored 10 of the first 22 points for the Orange, but he finished the game with just 12. That isn't good enough for Syracuse to continue.
Waiters hasn't shot the ball well over the last month of the season and that continued today, as he was 1-of-5 on threes.
Syracuse won't be as good defensively, so it needs more offense. The Orange need it to come from Waiters.
Southerland saved the Syracuse offense.
On a day where his teammates shot just 39.6 percent from the field, James Southerland bailed them out by shooting 6-of-8. He scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Syracuse to a surprisingly difficult win.
UNCA appeared to have control of the game early in the second half, until Southerland took over. He scored eight points during a run that gave the Orange a 50-48 lead.
He scored 13 points in the second half, including three buckets from three-point range. Southerland saved the Orange from an embarrassing day.
This isn't the first time a No. 16 seed has given a scare to the top seed, but something about this is different.
Syracuse lost its best defensive player and its best rebounder in Fab Melo. The Orange are just not the same team without him.
Against the smallest team in the tournament, Syracuse won the rebounding battle by just two. It had an impressive 15 offensive boards, but it allowed UNCA to grab 10 offensive rebounds of their own.
The Orange's next game is against Kansas State, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Syracuse will face bigger and tougher teams coming up, and today's game didn't bode well for its immediate future.