After winning its first 25 games, Syracuse has bottomed out, losing four of its last five. (Kevin Rivoli/AP)
Syracuse losing again means several teams are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and that Syracuse is not one of those teams. A national title contender has come undone in real time now, a staggering 67-62 home loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday bookending a staggering home loss to Boston College 13 days earlier, with two other defeats sandwiched in between.
At one point the No. 7 Orange were one of two unbeaten teams in the country. At this point they have lost four times in five games and needed miracle escapes to win the two games preceding that stretch. The offense is a tire fire, and an already relatively thin team has one of its most explosive players (Jerami Grant) battling back problems. Tack on a key frontcourt contributor hobbling along on a bad leg and the picture is cloudy, with a chance of disintegration.
It's also worth mentioning that the team that won the entire thing last year endured a sky-is-falling three-game losing streak. But Louisville went wobbly in January and didn't lose again after the first weekend in February. Things only need to come together for anyone over six games across three weekends in the NCAA tournament. But they usually need to seem to be coming together before that, as opposing to fraying at the seams.
Syracuse, without Jerami Grant, is a two-man show, and no one is cooperating by only playing two guys against Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair. Grant didn't play Tuesday and scored only four points in the two games previous, playing 26 combined minutes as his back issues flared up. But then the offense was stultified a good bit before that anyway; in the last five games, Syracuse has shot 37.2 percent from the floor. It's completely untenable, no matter how that defense can help compensate, and the results demonstrate it.
Fair dropped in 28 against the Yellow Jackets and Ennis added 18, and everyone else combined to make six shots all night. Someone, anyone, has to do more. Trevor Cooney detonated for 33 points against Notre Dame on Feb. 3 and has averaged 8.4 points per game since, posting five single-digit outings in his last six games. Grant was certainly a valuable component who could draw a defense's attention from mid-range in, but this valuable? A 6-foot-8 Jenga block violently yanked out of place, and the whole structure tumbles down?
The Orange spent a good deal of the season eluding disaster, and now they're hopscotching from one live mine to the next. Grant's back needs to heal and Cooney must rediscover some rhythm, yes. Nothing gets solved without that. But it's also a time when a strong voice that doesn't belong to Jim Boeheim sounds off and leaves with tinnitus by the time they pass through the Carrier Dome air-lock door. Is that Fair? Does' Ennis celebrated unflappability mean he's disinclined to the emotion needed to call out teammates? Are Cooney or Rakeem Christmas performing well enough to issue a call to action that won't pass through one ear and out the other?
Syracuse can clamber back to the 1-seed line. Even if it doesn't, there's no play-in game in Dayton afoot. And before this swoon, the Orange were a team just as equipped to run through to Dallas as they were vulnerable to bowing out in the round of 16. This stretch has changed everything and nothing, though it feels a little heavy on the everything, mostly because the losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech were basically horrendous.
Other would-be title contenders have much to figure out in a very short period of time, too. It's just that no one figured Syracuse would fall into that group, and especially not this hard.