Here we are again, with February coming to a close, there is a distinct chill in the air; one that hasn’t swarmed the Syracuse area in 30 years.
It was 1980 when the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team last earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. After losing to Louisville last Sunday in the Carrier Dome, 66-60, the Orange fell to 24-2 overall and 11-2 in the Big East. They also fell from number three in the nation to number five.
With five games remaining in the conference schedule, the Orange will have to snap a pair of losing streaks. However, up first is a top ten showdown in the nation’s capital as the Orange head to Georgetown University. On Feb. 27, the Villanova Wildcats roll into the Dome, bringing ESPN’s College GameDay with them. It will be a top five matchup on ESPN primetime television. Syracuse has dropped three straight to the Wildcats. The game had been sold out weeks in advance as 34,616 Orange faithful will file into the Dome.
For the final game of the season, the Orange will head to Freedom Hall in Louisville looking to snap a five-game skid against the Cardinals. Sandwich a trip to Providence and a home game with St. Johns and you have a daunting road to the number one seed.
So far this season, the Orange lead the nation in shooting percentage at 52.2 percent. The defense has been as good as it has ever been. The length and quickness of the signature 2-3 zone has caused turnover after turnover, allowing Syracuse to run the fast break, the bread and butter of their offensive attack.
The Orange are paced by junior transfer Wesley Johnson who is averaging 16 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Johnson is in the mix for national player of the year and Big East player of the year. Kris Joseph is scoring 11.3 points per game off the bench while pulling down 5.3 rebounds per game. Senior Andy Rautins is scoring 10.7 points per game and Arinze Onuaku is adding another 10.3 per game.
With size, depth, strength and experience on their side, the Orange should have what it takes to close out the season in position to claim their first number one seed in 30 years. The Orange will have to limit turnovers, though, as they continue to turn the ball over 15.5 times per game.
In the Louisville game, Syracuse showed no energy or interest on the floor. They will need to avoid not wanting to be on the floor in the final stretch which includes three road trips in unfriendly environments.
Syracuse is the only team to post a perfect record on the road as they are 6-0 away from the dome and 3-0 on neutral courts. That record includes impressive wins over Big East teams such as West Virginia and Notre Dame.