College Basketball Handicapping: Can Syracuse Stay Unbeaten?
by Trevor Whenham - 2/12/2014
The Syracuse Orange are one of just two remaining undefeated teams, and with all due respect to Wichita State, they are the only one playing in a conference that is a real challenge for them. The unanimous No. 1 team in the country has faced some real challenges and has overcome them without exception so far. But how far can they go without a loss? When are they most likely to fall? And is there an advantage to losing at some point along the way? Let’s take a look:
Feb. 19 vs. Boston College: The Eagles are just a lousy team. They are 2-8 in ACC play, and their wins are both over Virginia Tech — the only team in the conference that is worse than they are. They have played a few teams close — they took Notre Dame to overtime in South Bend — but they just don’t have the talent to mess with a team like Syracuse.
March 1 vs. Georgia Tech: The home of the Ramblin’ Wreck is in the midst of a wreck of a season. They can’t score at all (they rank 273rd in the country in points per game), and they don’t have the defensive ability to make up for it. They have only three wins in 11 games, and none of them have been against good teams. Outmatched.
Feb. 15 vs. North Carolina State: At 6-5 in conference play, the Wolfpack are considerably better than the two teams above them on this list. They are a long way from great, though. They have beaten the weak teams in the conference and have struggled against better teams. Syracuse is much better.
Feb. 24 at Maryland: Maryland’s six conference wins have been against teams that are averaging three wins each. In other words, they are beating up on weaklings. Meanwhile, they have lost all five games they have played against ACC opponents with winning records.
March 9 at Florida State: Florida State is very long and athletic, but they have not been able to get things moving in the right direction consistently. Ultimately, while they are a reasonably balanced squad, they just aren’t good enough to be a real threat.
Feb. 12 at Pitt: This is by far the toughest true road game the Orange have played all year. The toughest game away from home was a neutral-site game against Baylor back before the Bears forgot how to play. Syracuse beat the Panthers at home by five, but this will obviously be a much tougher test. What makes this easier, though, is that Pitt is playing lousy at home. In their last three they lost to Duke and Virginia, and they needed two overtimes to get past lowly Virginia Tech. Syracuse is making this tough trip at the right time.
March 1 at Virginia: The Cavaliers have dropped only one game in 12 conference matchups, and that came at Duke, so it was hardly a big issue. They have won eight straight, and their only loss at home all year came in early December against a very good Wisconsin team. They have the best defense in the entire country in terms of points allowed, and they are going to be matched up well against Syracuse. It’s going to be a great game, and it could particularly be an epic one if the Orange manage to make it this far without a loss.
Feb. 22 at Duke: It doesn’t get much tougher in college basketball than having to win a game at Cameron Indoor. Syracuse has already beaten Duke once this year, but it was at home, and they needed overtime to win by two in one of the best games of the year. Duke also has incomprehensible conference losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, but both of those were on the road. At home they have been brilliant, winning most games very handily, and they got past Virginia as well. Syracuse will more than have their hands full in this one.
The Bottom Line
I think that Syracuse will wind up with two losses — one at Duke, and another one in a random game somewhere along the line. That can be viewed as a good thing. There is little doubt that this is a very talented team that will be a real threat in tournament time. Not dealing with being unbeaten, though, will take a tremendous amount of pressure off their shoulders in the postseason. Two losses would still likely handily make them a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and that’s all that matters. I’d also like to see a loss for the sake of Tyler Ennis. The very talented point guard is the engine of this team, but as a freshman he has never yet experienced losing, and he would benefit from dealing with some adversity before the games really start to matter.
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