After a narrow loss to Villanova, Syracuse had dropped out of the AP poll for the first time this season.
With their current number of votes they would rank 28th. With 4 games before the Big East Tournament, ‘Cuse fans should feel good about an invite to the NCAA Tournament, although probably not with favorable seeding (not withstanding their Big East Tourney performance).
Before looking ahead to their tournament potential it is important to look back on their performance this season. Syracuse currently sports a 19-8 record (7-7 in Big East play). Five of their conference losses came to Big East teams currently in the top 10: No. 1 Pitt, No. 2 UConn, No. 6 Louisville, and No. 10 Villanova (twice). Add in a split with Georgetown, and close game disappointments with Cleveland State and Providence (lost-by average: 4.5), and you can see a Syracuse team that faced some stiff competition this year.
What about their victories? They turned in some impressive early season performances against Memphis, Kansas, and Florida. In summation they turned some heads with out of conference play, beat all but two of the teams they should have, and met their match against their fierce Big East competition.
This Syracuse team certainly has some strengths. On the offensive side of the ball, the two highest performers are Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn. Syracuse currently ranks second in the Big East scoring and requires solid play from Dvendorf and Flynn to do so.
Center Arinze Onuaku is a solid role player, averaging 12.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds before a knee injury. He is currently averaging around 4 points and 5 rebounds since returning to play. His health will be crucial to this team reaching their potential in tournament play. Devendorf and Flynn are the best shooters on this team averaging 15.9 and 17.3 respectively and represent the teams only real three-point threats.
Defensively this team has much room for growth.
As fellow Bleacher Report writer Jameson Flemming points out, Syracuse’s zone defense has been largely ineffective this season. Teams with effective outside shooters have been able to punish the 2-3 zone. Syracuse’s defense allows .943 points per possession, ranking 60th in the country (again thanks Jameson).
Syracuse’s run in the tournament may rest upon the broad shoulders of Jim Boeheim and the matchups this team receives in the tournament. Look for formidable showings against teams without multiple outside threats, which rely heavily on penetration and inside scoring. If Onuaku can return to early season performance levels and Devendorf and Flynn can continue to produce offensively this is a team that can certainly make a run.
The farthest I see this team going is to the elite eight. I don’t think that their defense will be able to overcome some of the offensive juggernauts they will face. I wouldn’t anticipate them exiting prior to the second round and think the most likely outcome is a loss to a fellow sweet sixteen member.
We will have to see their matchups to continue further prognostication.