February 17, 2016

Eight wins in nine games have given Syracuse a strong case to return to the NCAA Tournament a year after a self-imposed postseason ban that should sound awfully familiar to Louisville.

The Orange look to stay hot Wednesday night as they visit the 18th-ranked Cardinals, whose own voluntary exclusion from tournament play could wind up helping out Syracuse.

Syracuse (18-8, 8-5) opened the ACC schedule with four straight losses but has suddenly won five in a row. That turnaround has the Orange in good shape to make the tournament after missing out last season through a self-imposed suspension stemming from an NCAA investigation.

"A lot better place," guard Trevor Cooney said of the team's recent mindset. "It all comes down to winning games and we're winning games now."

After sweeping a four-game homestand, Syracuse returned to the road Sunday with a 75-61 win at last-place Boston College.

Tyler Lydon led the way with 20 points off the bench, giving him an average of 16 while making 65.4 percent from the floor over the last three games. The freshman forward was averaging 6.7 and shooting 37.3 percent over the previous 10.

Lydon is the Orange's most efficient 3-point shooter, connecting on 44.7 percent of his 76 attempts.

"I practice that a lot," Lydon said. "We definitely focus on that a little knowing I can shoot it and stretch the floor."

Michael Gbinije is also capable of that, making 39.6 percent from long range while leading the team with an average of 17.4 points. He converted 3 of 6 3s and finished with 18 points, six assists and five rebounds in a 69-59 win over the Cardinals on Feb. 18.

Syracuse has won its last two visits to Louisville, most recently when the Cardinals were ranked No. 1 and both teams were in the Big East on Jan. 19, 2013.

That loss was the first of three straight for Louisville (19-6, 8-4), which is on the verge of matching that for the first time since.

The Cardinals followed a 72-65 loss at Duke on Feb. 8 with Saturday's 71-66 defeat at Notre Dame. They're 1-2 since announcing their self-imposed postseason ban in response to the investigation surrounding major recruiting violations from 2010-14.

Louisville's absence from the ACC tournament, which gives double byes to the top four teams, could benefit the Orange. North Carolina leads the conference with Miami right behind, while the Cardinals are one of four ACC teams with four league losses.

Since coach Rick Pitino expressed his objections to the ban earlier this month, he was more concerned with the correlation between Louisville's 39.7 percent shooting and the lack of defensive effort against the Fighting Irish.

"This team has one major flaw that they have to get over. If they miss a shot, they put their head down and they don't think about defense," Pitino said. "That's probably the No. 1 hurdle we have to get over this year."

Perhaps getting back to the comforts of the KFC Yum! Center can give Louisville a spark. The Cardinals are 15-1 there, beating opponents by an average of 28.6 points while hitting 50.5 percent from the floor.

Damion Lee connected on 8 of 12 field goals while scoring 24 points in a 71-65 over then-No. 2 North Carolina on Feb. 1. However, the senior guard came one point short of that total while going 7 for 28 over the past two games, scoring a team-high 13 points Saturday.

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