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Syracuse faces tricky path in ACC tournament

Could Syracuse be a smart bet to go deep in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which begins Tuesday in Greensboro, N.C.?

Normally, that location would be a reason it wouldn’t happen. Far from home. Hostile crowds when facing any team based in Carolina. 

But the sixth-seeded Orange drew a break when Tobacco Road residents Duke, NC State and Wake Forest landed in the other half of the bracket. If seeds hold, Syracuse would play Virginia Tech in Wednesday’s second round after a bye Tuesday, then No. 3 seed Louisville in Thursday’s quarterfinals. An upset of Louisville would bring No. 2 seed Virginia, No. 7 seed Notre Dame or No. 10 seed Boston College. 

Syracuse wouldn’t have to play Duke until the final, if both make it that far. 

There is a catch. “If seeds hold” means No. 10 seed Virginia Tech would have to beat No. 14 seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels would enjoy a home-state advantage over Syracuse if they take out the Hokies. 

Projections based on Ken Pomeroy’s market-respected computer rankings (tweeted from @kenpomeroy) give Syracuse only a 16.3% chance of reaching the semifinals, an 8% chance of reaching the final and a 2% chance of winning. That would put true odds at 49/1 for the Orange cutting down the nets. 

Pomeroy’s ACC favorites: Duke 40.6%, Louisville 23.7% and Florida State 17.9%. 

Syracuse would have to run the table to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. With a 17-14 overall record, 10-10 in the disappointing ACC, the resume just doesn’t have enough high points. That should be enough motivation to create peak intensity. 

The problem is, that might not create peak defense. A tricky zone that’s usually the strength of the program just isn’t disrupting opponents this season. Pomeroy ranked Syracuse No. 133 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency entering the week, which is scoring adjusted for pace and opponents. That after Syracuse ranked No. 30 last season and No. 5 the year before. 

So this isn’t: Anything can happen on a neutral court with that great Syracuse defense. It’s: How can this soft defense play well enough to cash your ticket day by day? Syracuse hasn’t won more than two games in a row since late January.

A win and cover Wednesday against a hopefully tired opponent? Surely possible. A deep run? Pomeroy’s projections are properly pessimistic. 

Here’s a quick look at VSiN’s estimated market Power Ratings for the ACC entering the tournament. You can use these to project tentative spreads for any matchup. They are based on point spreads in recent games. Feel free to adjust as a new set of neutral-court numbers settle this week:

— Duke 86, Florida State 84, Louisville 84, Virginia 82, NC State 80, Notre Dame 80, Syracuse 79, Clemson 78, North Carolina 78, Virginia Tech 76, Pittsburgh 74, Miami 74, Wake Forest 74, Boston College 70.

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