This marks the final season where the Syracuse Orange are competing inside of the conference that they helped to build, the Big East.
With the 15 schools that fill out the conference, top to bottom, coming out of the Big East as the last standing has become known as potentially the most difficult task of any conference.
Perennially, numerous teams are ranked in the top 25 in the nation. In the previous three seasons, there were no less than four Big East schools ranked among the nation's top 25 in both the Associated Press and USA TODAY Coaches polls at the end of each respective campaign. For 2010, there were four Big East institutions in both polls, nine in the Associated Press poll and seven in the USA TODAY Coaches poll in 2011, and five in each of the two polls last season.
Even more are invited to the NCAA Tournament. There have been at least eight teams offered a place in the nation's tournament in each of the last three seasons; eight in 2010, 11 in 2011, and nine in 2012.
Currently, five Big East schools are ranked in the top 25 in both polls with the NCAA Tournament weeks away.
Syracuse was formally at the top of this heap, but most recently had back-to-back losses to the Georgetown Hoyas and Marquette Golden Eagles. As a result, the Orange have fallen behind both of these teams as well as the Louisville Cardinals, moving down from first to fourth with three games to play.
After starting 6-0 in the Big East, Syracuse has only amounted a 4-5 record. Four of the five missteps by the Orange have come on the road.
Three of those five defeats have come in Syracuse's last five contests.
A deeper look at the victors over the Orange shows that the majority of them (3 of 5) were not ranked among the nation's 25 best squads at the time of play versus Syracuse.
Whether ranked or unranked, what each have had in common were how well they performed from the charity stripe in the second half of their matches against the Orange. The Villanova Wildcats made 11 of their 18 tries in the second half, helping to force overtime. In the extra period, they made six of eight, aiding in a four-point victory.
The Pittsburgh Panthers connected on 12 of 17 freebies, guiding them to a 10-point advantage at the end of their bout with Syracuse.
Versus the Orange, the Huskies of Connecticut put 11 of 16 attempts from the free throw line inside the net in the second period, winning by eight.
Georgetown made seven of eight free throw tries in the latter half against Syracuse, helping them to an 11-point victory.
Marquette's Golden Eagles put 24 of 28 attempts inside the cylinder, providing substantial aid to keep the Orange chasing and running out of time in a three-point loss.
Turnovers, poor jump shooting, forced attempts, and shot selection have been Syracuse's self-inflicted kryptonite in these losses, not making it any easier to overcome their Big East adversaries' success at the line.
They recorded eight or more turnovers within one half in three of the five games they failed to win inside the Big East.
In all of their conference losses, Syracuse's jump shooting has been dismal. They have gone 12-for-44, 10-for-35, 17-for-55, 13-for-42, and 15-for-43, in order from their defeat at the hands of Villanova through to Marquette.
With their final regular season in the Big East quickly coming to an end, Syracuse will look to overcome their woes and minimize opponents' opportunities at the line as they play their last three conference foes in an eight-day span.
On the positive side, the Orange will host two of those three opponents inside the Carrier Dome, where they are currently 6-1 against the Big East.
Those will be followed, though, by a tough road test in a rematch with Georgetown, the only Big East squad who came out of the Dome with a "W". The Orange will head to D.C. even at 4-4 on the road in the Big East to culminate the current campaign.