The Syracuse men’s basketball team has nine games left in the regular season before it plays in its final Big East Tournament and then, the NCAA tournament.
The No. 9 Orange (19-3, 7-2 Big East) will move to the ACC next season, and nothing would please Syracuse fans more than riding off into the sunset with an NCAA crown.
For that to happen, the Orange will have to address a few key issues, first of which is whether or not senior forward James Southerland will be allowed to return to the court. Southerland has missed the last six games due to an academic suspension, but will have his appeal heard Friday.
Southerland was the team’s second-leading scorer at the time of his departure, helping Syracuse to a 15-1 record, with the only loss coming against Temple in Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse has gone 4-2 in Southerland’s absence, beating No. 1 Louisville and No. 21 Cincinnati, but managed to drop back-to-back games for the first time in almost two years with losses to Villanova and Pittsburgh.
A convincing 16-point win against Notre Dame on Monday stopped the bleeding, but all is not right.
Last week, Syracuse lost freshman forward DaJuan Coleman to knee surgery for at least a month, which forced coach Jim Boeheim to start freshman forward Jerami Grant.
Grant has played admirably in his starting role, but the Syracuse bench is depleted without him.
James Southerland was the first player off the bench before his suspension. Without Southerland, Grant assumed that role, with Trevor Cooney and Baye Keita following suit. Now Cooney has become the sixth man.
Cooney has yet to find his scoring touch and Keita has filled in as more of a warm body than as a baseline presence. This has caused coach Boeheim to keep Grant on the floor for all 40 minutes of each of the Orange’s last two games.
Even with the adversity of injury and suspension, Syracuse remains immensely talented.
Sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams has impressed as the nation’s leading assist man and is fourth in the NCAA in steals. Senior guard Brandon Triche has been a very good leader as the team’s leading scorer and junior forward C.J. Fair leads the team in rebounding and free-throw shooting.
At 19-3, Syracuse is in a good position to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament. In order to make a run to the Final Four, Syracuse will have to turn its mix of good and bad into a mix of good and good.
Starting with the game against St. John’s on Sunday, here are five ways Syracuse can improve its chances in the NCAA Tournament.