Klinger: Daunting back end of Syracuse’s conference schedule starts with Miami, will make or break SU’s season

first_imgWell, that was fun. Escalator fun.You know, like when you’re a little kid, dragged to the mall for shopping and the closest thing to amusement are the stairs that slide you from one floor to the next? Compared to losing brain cells inhaling perfume, it’s a wild and reckless adventure. But really, as long as you don’t get your shoelaces caught at the end then you’re fine.(If you had Velcro sneakers you were invincible, obviously.)Watching Syracuse fight through the early part of its conference schedule hasn’t been all that different. A young-ish team has turned matchups with some of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s worst teams into dramatic struggles. Great entertainment, but better teams would’ve been coasting into the heart of their season.“We’ve got to play better, that’s the bottom line,” head coach Jim Boeheim said after SU’s 69-61 win over Boston College on Tuesday. “We’ve got to play better.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHe’s been saying that for much of the season and he’s been right for all of it, never more so than now. Because when the Orange (14-5, 5-1 ACC) tips off against Miami (12-5, 2-2) at 4 p.m. on Saturday, it will start the stretch of the season from which there’s no turning back. It’s the part that determines whether you’ll be watching Syracuse on CBS in the middle of March, or on whatever channel shows the NIT.As a whole, the schedule only gets harder from here. And as much as that’s a testament to the strength of the ACC, it’s also a reminder that as far as making the NCAA Tournament goes, SU has only held serve. The team has no quality wins to speak of, but it doesn’t have any embarrassing losses either.It’s usually asinine to start NCAA Tournament projections in January — and it probably still is — but most schedules aren’t as back loaded as the Orange’s.The average RPI of Syracuse’s ACC opponents as of Thursday is 128.6. The rest of SU’s conference slate averages out at 55.4. A quick look over the schedule shows four more games where I go, “OK, yeah, Syracuse should win that game.”But the rest — including No. 15 North Carolina, No. 5 Duke twice, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 10 Louisville and No. 2 Virginia — are the kinds of teams you’ll consider writing toward the end of your brackets in March.Syracuse is and has been playing teams just hoping to be on that same piece of paper. There’s no turning back from here. Realistically, SU has to win a game it shouldn’t and also not screw up at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.There are letdowns in difficulty left in the schedule, sure. SU gets to play Virginia Tech and Boston College again.But those games will be relief from a level of play that Syracuse has showed it can compete at, but not escape a winner. And it’s worth mentioning that the Orange missed about as many free throws as possible without losing in its games against VT and BC.The last, most memorable time that Boeheim called out his players for needing to improve was after the Orange beat Louisiana Tech, 71-69, on Dec. 14.“We’re not talking about running play X, Y into Z,” he said then. “We’re talking about — you have to catch the ball. And if you can’t catch the ball, we can’t play, we can’t win.”SU is definitely catching the ball now. Kaleb Joseph looks like a generally well-adjusted college point guard, Trevor Cooney has given teams more reason to fear him and Rakeem Christmas has emerged as one of the best big men in the country.Now, when Boeheim analyzes his team’s breakdowns, he’s talking about missing cuts to the basket against holes his team tore open in opposing defenses.Starting Saturday, though, those opponents are teams that will gladly grab SU by its untied laces, drag them into the escalator void and bash the Orange against the floor until the season ends.Jacob Klinger is the development editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Jacob_Klinger_. Comments Published on January 23, 2015 at 2:30 am Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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