Men's Basketball

Iseman: Despite recent struggles, Syracuse still contender in parity-filled NCAA landscape

It’s natural to search for answers. Losses incite the need to find reasons and to insist a change is needed. Syracuse’s six losses, especially its last two, have created that type of swirling concern.

You can search as much as you want, but in the end, a lot of it comes down to parity rarely seen before in college basketball. Syracuse has losses and flaws. So do top teams across the nation.

Nothing’s normal in college basketball. The rankings are shuffled from week to week. Teams expected to sit at the top have slid up, down and out of the top 10. Teams that have had little to no shot at being ranked have upended top-five teams.

Four different teams have spent time ranked No. 1. Indiana has spent 10 weeks in the top spot. The Hoosiers have three losses to unranked teams while playing as No. 1.

Thirteen different teams have spent some portion of the season ranked in the top five in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. Of those 13, seven of them have at least three losses to unranked teams, and two of them have two losses to unranked teams. Miami, who shocked the nation and stormed up the rankings to as high as No. 2, got trounced by Wake Forest 80-65 last week.

The most recent shocking upset came just Wednesday, when Penn State, who was 0-14 in the Big Ten, upset No. 4 Michigan 84-78. That loss is far worse than any Syracuse has suffered, and yet the Wolverines sit eight spots ahead of the Orange in the rankings. Michigan made only five of its 20 3-point attempts, and let Nittany Lions guard Jermaine Marshall go off for 25 points, 18 of them coming on 3s.

This season is completely unpredictable.

Even though the Orange is coming off of back-to-back losses for the second time this season, there’s no reason to discount Syracuse’s ability to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The same inconsistency that’s plagued SU has struck other top teams, as well.

It’s the nature of the sport this year.

There’s no denying the Orange’s losses came with some particularly bad shooting and defensive breakdowns. And without a dominant inside presence, Syracuse could be at a disadvantage.

Syracuse has six losses, and four of them came to unranked teams. But none of the Orange’s losses came to particularly bad teams. The weakest Big East team Syracuse fell to is Villanova, and the Wildcats also upended Marquette and Connecticut, two teams the Orange lost to.

Every single team is vulnerable this season. We all know Syracuse has flaws. The Orange isn’t a great shooting team and often struggles on the glass. SU’s been outrebounded in nine games this season, five of those being losses. Correct either of those issues and Syracuse becomes a near dominant team.

But while Syracuse has its imperfections, so does every other team. And it’s shown by the incredible amount of upsets.

There have been so many upsets this season, court-storming is starting to lose its significance.

Having success in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments is all about getting hot at the right time. If Syracuse finishes the regular season strongly and carries momentum through the conference championship, making a deep run in the NCAA is a likely possibility.

Any of the top-10 teams have a legitimate shot at winning the championship. Syracuse sits at No. 12 and should be in the conversation for Final Four contenders.

“When you lose a game, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to revamp everything,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said after his team’s loss to Marquette. “We lost a game.”

The panic that Syracuse is suddenly not capable of beating elite teams is an overreaction. This is a particularly difficult stretch in the Orange’s season where four of its final five games are against ranked teams, including two (Louisville and Georgetown) in the top 10.

Teams up and down the top 10 are capable of a loss to a team outside of the top 25 at any point. Despite any of its six losses, Syracuse stands a chance to make a deep run, especially if it irons out its flaws in the next couple of weeks.

Those flaws have cost the Orange at times this season. It’s no different than any other team in the country.

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