As the Syracuse Orange finish out the season, they will need to avoid any further mistakes in order to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament come March.
The Orange are in the middle of their Big East schedule. Currently sitting at 18-2, Syracuse is 6-1 in the Big East after Saturday's upset loss at Villanova. While Syracuse has 11 regular season games remaining and should be favored in all of them, Big East play is tough, and any team is capable of an upset.
The following slides preview and predict the four games that present the toughest challenge to Syracuse moving forward.
This will be a revenge game for Syracuse.
Last season an unranked Irish team knocked off the then No. 1 Orange in South Bend. Although this year's game is at the Carrier Dome, it will once again be a tough test. The Irish are currently 16-4 on the year and ranked sixth in the nation in field goal percentage.
Forward Jack Cooley, who averages 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds a game, leads the Irish. His 6'9", 245-pound frame makes him tough to deal with down low. The senior, a threat to both score and rebound, has 12 double-doubles this season.
Syracuse, led by C.J. Fairone, is one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, and will need to keep Cooley off the glass in order to come out victorious.
Notre Dame also boasts a solid backcourt combination of Jerian Grant (12.8 PPG) and Eric Atkins (12 PPG). Syracuse's Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams will have their hands full trying to defend an Irish offense that loves to move the ball around. Notre Dame is the third-best team in the nation when it comes to assists.
This one will be tight.
Notre Dame presents a solid test for the Orange. The Irish, however, have struggled recently, dropping three of their last four games.
The home court fans will help Syracuse win what should be a tough Big East game.
Prediction: Notre Dame 70 Syracuse 74
Sure, this isn't the Connecticut team of old, but that doesn't mean it won't be a tough game, at least for a while. Anytime a team goes on the road in the Big East, it can present a challenge.
The current version of the Huskies is tough to figure out. Currently 3-3 in Big East play, they've lost three of their last six. Those losses delivered by Pittsburgh, Louisville and Marquette.
Connecticut does have some signature wins to it's credit this season, including a victory over then No. 17 Notre Dame and a season-opening win against then No. 14 Michigan State.
Connecticut uses a three-guard system that could present a matchup problem for the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the top scorers on the team. Both average over 16 points and four assists per contest. Freshman Omar Calhoun fills the third guard position and scores 10.9 per game.
While UConn's backcourt is tough, its frontcourt leaves something to be desired.
The Huskies lack a true presence down low, ranking No. 291 in the country in rebounding. Forward DeAndre Daniels does score 10.5 points a game, but he only pulls down four rebounds a game.
On paper this looks like an easy victory for Syracuse. The Orange should be able to control the glass, and guys like C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant could be in for big games.
Road games are always tough, but 'Cuse shouldn't have much trouble in this one. The two teams met three times last season, with the Orange coming out victorious in all three match ups.
Prediction: Syracuse 76 Connecticut 62
Louisville will enter this game looking to make up for the 70-68 loss it suffered to Syracuse on January 19 at the KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals followed that up with back-to-back upset losses to Villanova and Georgetown.
Despite the losses, Louisville is still one of the best teams in the Big East.
Russ Smith and Peyton Siva arguably make up the best backcourt in the conference, if not one of the best in the nation.
In the last meeting between Louisville and Syracuse, the Cardinals had a poor shooting day, making just 40.7 percent from the field. They were also out rebounded by the Orange 35-31. Meanwhile, senior guard Siva, who averages 11 points a game, had a season-low three points in the game. Fellow guard Russ Smith picked up the slack for Siva, scoring a game-high 25 points in the losing effort.
The Orange shouldn't expect another poor showing from Siva the second time around.
Syracuse also struggled in the game, committing 15 turnovers that kept it close. Star point guard Michael Carter-Williams played poorly for the majority of the game, committing a season-high eight turnovers. However, he took the game over in the final five minutes and was instrumental in securing the upset victory.
Senior guard Brandon Triche led the Orange with 23 points, including making five of seven three-point attempts.
Aside from the backcourt matchup, keep an eye on what happens in the paint. In the previous game, Louisville's center, Gorgui Dieng, was held to four points and eight rebounds—both below his season average. Syracuse will need to contain him again in this game if the Orangemen hope to seal a victory.
This will once again be a great matchup. Look for Peyton Siva to play better for Louisville, helping the Cardinals get revenge on the Orange.
Prediction: Louisville 68 Syracuse 65
Syracuse plays its final Big East regular-season game against its biggest rival from the conference, the Georgetown Hoyas. The rivalry is on of the best in all of college basketball, a fitting way for the Orange to say farewell to the Big East.
Syracuse holds the lead in the rivalry with a record of 48-39 against the Hoyas.
Georgetown has had a solid start to the year, going 10-1 in non-conference play with its only loss coming in overtime to then No. 1 Indiana. As recently as January 5, the Hoyas were ranked No.15 in the nation.
That was before dropping their first two Big East games to Marquette and Pittsburgh.
However, in their last game, the Hoyas upset Louisville 53-51.
Sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr. leads the Hoyas in both points per game (14.7) and rebounds per game (7.9). He presents a challenge to any opponent's frontcourt.
Along with Porter Jr., Georgetown features another talented forward in Greg Whittington. He is averaging 12.1 points a game and seven rebounds per contest.
This is another matchup for Syracuse against a team that does not rebound very well— the Hoyas rank No. 244 in that department.
Throw in the fact that they only score 63.4 points a game, and it should equal a 'Cuse victory.
The fact that this game in at Verizon Center could give Georgetown the advantage, but the Orange score too many points for the Hoyas to keep up with.
Prediction: Syracuse 73 Georgetown 63