After an unprecedented year of sports, tournament time has finally arrived in college basketball. As usual, the season was filled with its ups and downs for blue bloods and smaller schools alike. Although programs such as Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan managed to rise to the occasion, other major schools including Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State have struggled to find any consistency throughout the season. If these well-known schools wish to continue their streaks of making it to the big dance, then they will have to establish strong performances in their conference tournaments.
Syracuse’s Tournament Path
Despite not winning a national championship since 2003, Syracuse easily qualifies as one of the major schools that sit on the tournament bubble. Sitting at a record of 15-8 (9-7 ACC), the Orange have speculated much attention into whether they will make or miss college basketball’s biggest event. As of right now, most analysts have the Orange in the next four out categories, which means they are on the outside looking in.
Although it will undoubtedly be challenging to put together a stronger resume in such a short period of time, the Orange should be able to make it to March Madness if they win at least a few games in their conference tournament. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, as the ACC has been and still is one of the most competitive and talented conferences in college basketball. It’s imminent that the demanding path could pose a problem for the Orange, especially with a challenging game right off the bat against NC State. Similarly to Syracuse, the Wolfpack are hungry for a chance at a tournament bid, as they have been playing arguably their best basketball of the season at just the right time.
Syracuse Orange vs North Carolina State Wolfpack
The 8th seeded Orange will face off against the 9th seed Wolfpack at Noon on Wednesday, March 7th. The winner of the highly anticipated matchup will keep their tournament aspirations alive and book a date with the 1st seeded Virginia Cavaliers on Thursday. The two programs have faced off twice so far this season, with Syracuse taking the W in both matchups by scores of 76-73 and 77-68.
Although Syracuse garnered much more attention on the national stage, both programs finished the season on a strong note. The Orange picked up two impressive quad-2 wins against North Carolina and Clemson to cap out their season. NC State, on the other hand, boasted a five-game win streak to end the regular season, stunning the Virginia Cavaliers in the process by a score of 68-61. The impressive performances by NC State have helped both their own and Syracuse’s overall resume, as the Orange’s pair of wins against the Wolfpack now look all the more impressive.
When asked about the Orange’s tournament hopes, head coach Jim Boeheim expressed confidence and admiration for his team. As Boeheim stated, “We haven’t won Quadrant 1 games, but we’ve won all of those in 2 and 3, We’ve had no bad losses and we have no Quadrant 4 losses. I think we’ve done a lot. I really do.”
Key Players for North Carolina State
In terms of the actual matchup, Syracuse will once again be facing an NC State team without Devon Daniels, who was the leading scorer for the Wolfpack before tearing his ACL during the middle of the regular season. However, many leaders have stepped up for the Wolfpack in his place, as upperclassmen forwards DJ Funderburk and Jericole Hellems have put together strong performances to end the season. In his two games against Syracuse this season, Funderburk has averaged 14 points per game with a 66.7% FG percentage. Meanwhile, Hellems has averaged 17.5 points per game with a 42.9% FG percentage in his two games against the Orange. Expect these two guys to be used to the maximum limit on Wednesday, as they are the class of Wolfpack basketball.
Buddy Boeheim is the X-Factor for Syracuse
As for the Orange, expect a fairly balanced effort as usual with Buddy Boeheim acting as the leading scorer. Of course, every youth sports player is accustomed to the coach’s son getting too much playing time, but that’s actually not the case with Boeheim. The junior guard has impressed many fans with an average of 16 points per game. However, it has been his efforts late in the season that has established himself as arguably the best player currently on the Orange.
Just this past week, Boeheim knocked down six three-pointers in his 26 point performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The strong efforts elevated the Orange to a much-needed 72-70 victory. Even more impressive, Boeheim became the 64th player in program history to score over 1,000 career points. With his strong contributions against the Tar Heels and a career-high 29 points against Notre Dame only a few weeks ago, it seems as if Boeheim is playing his best basketball at the perfect time.
Other Key Players for Syracuse
Orange fans should anticipate strong performances from forwards Alan Griffin and Quincy Guerrier as well. Griffin just barely trails Boeheim in PPG, with an overall average of 15.3 on the season. The New York born junior also boasts a team high 1.8 blocks per game and is second overall in rebounds per game with 6.6 on average. The only person on the team who more rebounds than Griffin is in fact Guerrier himself. With 14.5 points per game and an average of 8.9 rebounds per game, Guerrier has proven to be someone who can do it all. Of course, there are a few other important impact players on the Orange such as Marek Dolezaj and Joseph Giard III, but Boeheim, Griffin, and Guerrier stand out as the big 3.
Overall, there’s a lot to take in before the ACC tournament starts up for the Orange on Wednesday. Even if Jim Boeheim and company do emerge victorious. They will still have to most likely defeat the dreaded Virginia Cavaliers to qualify for the tournament. It sure will not be easy, although it never has been anyway. At the end of the day only the elite will remain, and as the famous quote goes, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. There’s a long road ahead, but the Orange can do it if they manage to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Although being a 1 seed in the NIT would not be a terrible alternative, most Orange fans would prefer making the big dance year in and year out. As for now, go Orange.
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