If the last week is any indication, the Syracuse basketball team is going to like being in the ACC; and if the last week is any indication, the Orange may cruise to a conference championship in their inaugural ACC season without too many bumps in the road along the way. Is it a little too soon to start thinking that? Perhaps, after all the Orange were practically sleepwalking through their ACC opener against Miami. But based on what Syracuse has done throughout the first two and a half months of the season, and the rather mediocre play throughout the rest of the ACC up to this point in the season, there may not be many teams that can truly challenge the Orange in conference play, and even fewer teams that can realistically challenge them for the conference championship.
Despite a lethargic performance against Miami last week, Syracuse has bounced back nicely in their last two games. The Orange used one of their patented second-half runs to blow out Virginia Tech in what was supposed to be one of the toughest road environments in the ACC. Syracuse then came home and had a rather convincing win over North Carolina, who is now 0-3 in the conference after being expected to be one of the league’s top teams this year. The Tar Heels are one of the few teams that may be able to matchup with Syracuse’s size in the frontcourt this season, and yet the Orange had no trouble outrebounding them.
What makes Syracuse’s 3-0 start in ACC play all the more impressive is that they’ve done it despite sub-par performances from Trevor Cooney, who was one of the best shooters in the country throughout November and December, as well as the absence of DaJuan Coleman, which has changed the dynamic of Syracuse’s lineup. The Orange have managed the early part of the ACC schedule just fine despite not being at full strength or playing their best, and aside from a moment of uncertainty against Miami, the Orange has scarcely been threatened with a loss in the final minutes of a game all season, which makes it hard to imagine them being challenged too many times the rest of the ACC season, considering the level of play in the conference this season.
The ACC has looked quite mediocre this season, especially compared to the high level of competition that Syracuse has faced in the Big East over the past five seasons. Not only has North Carolina struggled, but Duke has lost two of its first three games to begin the conference season, while most of the other teams look no better than NCAA Tournament bubble teams. There may only be a handful of teams in the ACC that can beat Syracuse, even if the Orange isn’t at their best, and outside of preseason favorites Duke, the only team that may challenge Syracuse for the conference championship is Pittsburgh, who is also used to a higher level of competition in the Big East.
This isn’t to say that Syracuse will traverse the entire regular season undefeated. Such a result is improbable, even if the Orange end up being one of the nation’s elite teams, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they are. But even if the ACC is just in a down year, it’s hard to deny that the level of competition they’ll face over the next two months is down from what they’ve faced in past years, just as it’s hard to deny that Syracuse has looked like a bona fide national championship contender this season and should be able to take care of business against average teams over the next two months. It may not be as effortless as it looks, but the Syracuse team we’ve seen over the past two and a half months looks capable of cruising through their conference schedule and running away with the ACC championship.
Bryan Zarpentine covers Syracuse Orange football and basketball for ChatSports.com. You can follow him on twitter @BZarp and @ChatSyracuse. Also, add him to your network on Google, and keep up with Syracuse at ChatSports.com/Syracuse-Orange.Back to the Syracuse Orange Newsfeed