An NCAA tournament without Syracuse is becoming increasingly likely

The Dagger
An NCAA tournament without Syracuse is becoming increasingly likely
An NCAA tournament without Syracuse is becoming increasingly likely

Syracuse's overall record suggests it's still in decent position to sneak into the NCAA tournament despite its 93-83 loss at North Carolina on Monday night.

A closer look at the Orange's remaining schedule, however, reveals reason for concern.

Yes, Syracuse is 14-7 so far this season. Yes, Syracuse is a respectable 5-3 in the ACC. But the Orange need to pile up wins before Valentine's Day because their schedule is back-loaded and their final seven regular season games may be the nation's toughest finishing kick.  

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Between Feb. 14 and March 7, Syracuse will face fourth-ranked Duke twice, travel to eighth-ranked Notre Dame and dangerous NC State and host unbeaten Virginia, 10th-ranked Louisville and former Big East foe Pittsburgh. Aside from maybe the Pittsburgh game, the Orange almost certainly will not be favored to win any of those games. 

Syracuse would have loved to have been playing to bolster its NCAA tournament seeding by the time that stretch began, but that's not going to happen. The only two teams with winning records the Orange have beaten so far this season are Iowa and Louisiana Tech, which explains why their RPI is hovering in the high 60s and they're only No. 72 in the latest KenPom rankings.

Adding to the sense of urgency for Syracuse is that only three games remain before the start of that brutal finishing stretch, a home game against hapless Virginia Tech and winnable road games at Boston College and Pittsburgh. The Orange desperately need victories in those three games or they could find themselves in jeopardy of slipping off the bubble altogether if they don't pull a couple late-season upsets.    

Syracuse last missed the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2008 when it settled for back-to-back NIT bids. The Orange have won 27 or more games every season since then, reaching the 2013 Final Four, the 2012 Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010.

The one silver lining for Syracuse is it played one of its better offensive games of the season Monday in a losing effort in Chapel Hill. Finding scorers besides Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney has been a season-long struggle for an Orange team that's 10th in the ACC in points per possession, but those two combined for 50 points against the Tar Heels and Tyler Roberson and Michael Gbinije cracked double figures as well.

The strong offensive showing went to wast because North Carolina carved up the Syracuse two-three zone, shooting 55.7 percent from the field. Predictably, the Tar Heels hurt the Orange in the paint and on the offensive glass. Unexpectedly, North Carolina also struck early and often from behind the arc, sinking 9 of 16 threes including four from normally cold-shooting Nate Britt.

That was enough to help the Tar Heels pull away in the closing minutes to improve to 17-4 overall and 7-1 in the ACC. Syracuse meanwhile let another potential marquee win slip away just like it did earlier in the season against Villanova and Michigan.

Those losses stung a bit at the time. By March, they may seem even more damaging.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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