After reeling off 25 straight wins to start the season, Syracuse has stumbled a bit of late losing three of their last four. The offense has been poor over the last few weeks and the Orange were run out of the gym late against Virginia. Is it time to panic? Not quite.
Saturday night was the perfect storm against Syracuse. Virginia is very good basketball team who was playing with a chip on their shoulder on senior night in front of a raucous home crowd in the biggest game in decades for the Cavaliers. That's a tough spot for anyone.
Despite that, Syracuse's goal of landing in the east region is still very much in play. In fact, the Orange could have the inside track despite their recent slide.
Highly ranked teams all over the country have been losing in recent games, which is par for the course in college basketball this season. Every team has a flaw, and the top teams appear to be murky at best until you take a closer look. Syracuse is still in a good position to land the number one seed in the east.
The primary threats going forward for that coveted spot are Virginia and Duke. If Virginia wins at Maryland to close the regular season and wins the ACC Tournament, they could snag that spot. Duke would have to win their final two regular season games and beat Syracuse on their way to winning the ACC Tournament to have a claim. They still have a matchup with North Carolina to end the regular season.
What can Syracuse do to hold off those schools? The Orange have to take care of business in the regular season. Wins over Georgia Tech and Florida State would give them a 28-3 regular season record. That would include wins over Villanova, Duke, Baylor, California, Minnesota, Pittsburgh (twice), North Carolina and St. John's. That's a very strong case for the top seed.
But their work may not be done. At least one win in the ACC Tournament may be necessary to grab a strangle hold of that spot. An ACC Tournament championship game appearance, unless they lose to Virginia there, would likely clinch it.
Bottom line, Syracuse controls their own destiny and are still in a good position. The three recent losses are a reason to be concerned, but the health of Jerami Grant is a bigger issue. His lingering back problem has limited his ability to play, and hurt his ability to impact a game.
If he comes back for the NCAA Tournament healthy, the seed Syracuse gets is secondary.
But the Orange still have plenty to be positive about as they try to snag that number one seed. The Syracuse zone will give teams trouble in the tournament. It always does. Senior C.J. Fair is going to be extra motivated during this tournament as it will be his last. Tyler Ennis continues to be solid at the point.
Trevor Cooney needs to get back on track. During the non-conference schedule, he was shooting lights out. In the NCAA Tournament, they will face non-conference teams, at least at the start. Maybe that will help him get back on track.
Rakeem Christmas has shown flashes of improvement, but has to become more consistent on both ends. Mike Gbinije has really stepped up in recent games, showing an improved offensive game.
Yes the offense is still a problem. It is the single biggest issue in another Final Four run. The best way to correct that problem may be Trevor Cooney getting back on track combined with Jerami Grant getting healthy. This will open up the floor for Ennis and Fair.
The good news is that Syracuse has an opportunity to correct their offensive woes over the next two games before postseason play begins. Georgia Tech is up on Tuesday, who has had a poor season. They are not a great shooting team and the Orange should be able to take care of business there. This is a game where Syracuse could get back on track offensively.
A road matchup with Florida State looms afterwards. The Seminoles are a subpar offensive team, but are strong defensively. That will be a challenge, but the Orange are more talented.
Use those last two games to correct things and get some mojo back heading into the ACC Tournament.