Previewing the ACC Tournament

Tuesday, Mar 02, 2021 at 4:28 pm by Sports Editor

By James Corrigan

CitrusTV’s Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter

It was a regular season unlike any other for the Syracuse women’s basketball team.

From the very start it was a roller coaster ride. There were combined pauses of nearly six weeks. There were home outbursts of over 90 points, and road slugfests where the team won with 50 points. There were spectacular performances at home, and poor performances on the road. While the Orange may not have lived up to the lofty expectations set for them in the preseason, they will almost certainly be in the field of 64 in San Antonio, and they have done enough to earn the number 5 seed in this week’s ACC Tournament with a 9-7 record.
It would be an understatement to say that the task ahead of them in Greensboro is difficult. If Quentin Hillsmans side were to win in the preliminary round over either Boston College or Pittsburgh, they would face a Florida State team that rolled over them on February 11 in arguably the team’s worst game of the season. If they were to get past the Seminoles, they would then have to face the number one seed Louisville Cardinals, the four time defending ACC regular season champions. In this year of all years, however, anything is possible, and this is what the path for the Orange would have to be to take home the title in Greensboro.
This is the fourth time since the Orange joined the ACC in 2013 that they have earned the 5 seed in the tournament. Of the previous three times, they have reached the semifinals once, in 2019 when they defeated 4 seed Miami before falling to eventual champion Notre Dame. Syracuse has reached the semifinals twice and the final once in 2016, where they fell to Notre Dame as well.
Syracuse won only three road games in ACC play this season, and two of them came in Chestnut Hill and Pittsburgh. The Orange are 4-0 against the Eagles and Panthers this season, beating BC by a combined 30 points in two games, and thumping Pitt 80-57 at the dome before needing a dramatic comeback to hold off the Panthers on the road. BC and Pitt will meet Wednesday at 2:30 in what is the only play-in game of the tournament due to Duke and Virginia opting out of the season.
The defense of Florida State shone through on February 11 in Tallahassee, holding Syracuse to just 30% from the floor. The Orange settled for far too many outside jumpers in that one, finishing 4-23 from three. All-ACC performer Morgan Jones was held in check for FSU with 13 points on 5-11 shooting, but the team collectively knocked down 7 threes and forced 18 SU turnovers en route to a 67-52 win. Emily Engstler went 1-10 from the floor in the game, a performance she would be unlikely to repeat in a rematch.
Every game from here on out will be played outside of Syracuse, which the Orange have turned into a fortress this year. The opposite can be said for their road performances, where they are 3-6 in ACC play and have shot a combined 39% compared to 45% at home. They have the tendency to allow huge opposition runs to start games, such as when they allowed Virginia Tech to take a 20-8 lead after 1 quarter, and allowed Pitt to start their game in Western PA on a 21-6 run. While every team will be outside of their comfort zone at this neutral site, Syracuse cannot afford to give anyone a chance to break a game open early.
If the Syracuse Orange are to make a deep run in Greensboro this week, they have to play to their strengths, which is to get the ball inside to ACC Freshman of the Year Kamilla Cardoso, not settle for outside shots, and force mistakes with their pressure and zone defense look. If they can do those things and take care of the ball, Syracuse could be on its way to another ACC tournament run. | @realcorrigan