In a college basketball season notable for several dramatic reversals of fortune, no recent rise to relevance has been more dramatic than that of Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.
Syracuse dug a deep hole. An outright loss to Virginia Tech as a home favorite on Jan. 7 was its sixth straight defeat against the spread, falling to 4-11 ATS. Among the lowlights were failures as home favorites against Tech and Notre Dame and litmus test losses to Virginia 48-34, Oklahoma State 86-72, Penn State 85-64, Iowa 68-54 and Georgetown 89-79. Syracuse was priced from plus- to minus-4 in all of those double-digit defeats.
The Orange were inexplicably bad, especially when it mattered.
In a finger snap, everything turned around. The loss to Virginia Tech was followed by a revenge upset of Virginia, a rout of Boston College, a revenge upset of the Hokies, a road upset of Notre Dame and Saturday’s home cover vs. Pittsburgh. A 4-11 ATS start that was arguably even worse than it sounded had been followed by a five-game straight-up and ATS sweep that beat the market by a combined 43.5 points. Stunning.
Which brings us to what could be Syracuse’s most important week of the season:
— Syracuse at Clemson (7 p.m. Tuesday)
The Orange cracked Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 (kenpom.com) with its win over Pitt. But it can’t get caught looking past an erratic Clemson team ranked about 30 spots worse.
— Duke at Syracuse (8 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
It’s the biggest game of the year in the Carrier Dome — and possibly the biggest on the Orange’s entire regular-season schedule depending on how national rankings sort themselves out among Duke, Louisville and Florida State. Coming in a prime-time TV spot the night before the Super Bowl, this will be one of the most heavily bet regular-season games at sportsbooks in legal jurisdictions.
If Syracuse can sweep, it would be on the right side of the Dance and positioned to lobby for respected seeding. That would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the month.
Is Syracuse a smart bet to sweep? That’s a much tougher call. Clemson has “lookahead” written all over it. And those earlier debacles may still be red flags for what’s going to happen against future focused, quality opponents.
It’s important to note about recent Syracuse victims:
— Virginia has been a big disappointment and is now ranked below Syracuse at kenpom.com.
— Virginia Tech isn’t in Pomeroy’s top 60 and probably took Syracuse too lightly in their rematch.
— Notre Dame is just 2-6 in ACC play and not rated in the top 60.
— Pittsburgh is below .500 in ACC play and outside the top 80.
— Boston College is below .500 in ACC play and outside the top 160.
Smart handicappers must always account for context. We’re about to learn if Syracuse is for real or just superior to other pretenders.