We’ll tackle that second question first, and the answer, unequivocally, is ‘yes.’’ Syracuse absolutely needs to beat Louisville in the Greensboro Coliseum tonight if they want to have any chance at getting a bid for the NCAA tournament. Jim Boeheim’s Orange will likely need to keep winning, but first things first, they have to beat the 3rd-seeded Cardinals in the third round of the ACC tournament tonight at 9 p.m.

The Orange are coming off an exciting win over the Tar Heels Wednesday night that kept hopes for a tournament bid alive. However, should the Orange lose tonight, they’re going to the committee with an 18-15 record on the season and a 11-11 record in the ACC, and bluntly, that’s not going to cut it.

Why They Can Win

 Throughout the season, Marek Dolezaj has exhibited almost Gerry-like hustle and passion, even if he’s not hitting 30-foot threes over power forwards. His thirteen-point performance against the Tar Heels was yet another example of his ability to step up when the team needed a scorer, and we’ll have to hope he can do it again Thursday night.

Bourama Sidibe continued to be a force on the glass against Miami, posting his fifth consecutive 10-plus rebound game and Elijah Hughes was the stand-out scorer against the Heels with 27 points. If these guys are finally hitting their stride, they could not have picked a better time.

The money’s not exactly on Syracuse, but they’re not as big of an underdog as you might expect. The Cardinals are favored by three points as of this writing, and coming off an impressive win over Virginia Tech, they might be looking past the Orange.

             Why They’ll Struggle

 The third-seeded Cardinals are hot. Although they dropped games to Florida State and Virginia to end their season, both of those teams were ranked, and the losses were sandwiched between wins over the Orange, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Louisville has beaten the Orange in thirteen of their last nineteen meetings and 11 out of the 16 times when the Cardinals were ranked (they’re currently ranked fifteenth).

The last time the two teams met, four of the Cardinals, Dwayne Sutton, Malik Williams, Jordan Nwora, and Ryan McMahon all scored in double digits in a 90-66 route of the Orange at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

The 22-5 Cardinals are 13-3 in conference play this year, meaning it’ll take everything the Orange have – in essence a perfect night from all of their starters, to be in this one until the end.

 The Takeaway

 Here’s the thing about conference tournaments: Momentum matters here more than it does even in the regular season. These tournaments are when bubble teams can get hot and earn a bid, it’s when highly ranked super-teams that have dominated all season can get cocky and find themselves taking an early exit. These tournaments are magical because of their very nature: They’re a last chance for bubble teams that need it, and all the rivalries that have brewed all season are distilled in one arena and brought to bear.

If fans ever forget the potential significance of a conference tournament, we only need to rewind to the 2006 Big East Tournament when then-ninth-seeded Syracuse made an absolutely improbable run behind Gerry McNamara to win four straight games and earn themselves an NCAA tournament bid.

The Orange this season have been a team that can play well when they absolutely need to. We’ve seen second-half heroics, miraculous runs, and incredible comebacks from Boeheim’s boys in 2020, and if the pressure was ever on, it is tonight.

Marek Dolezaj and Buddy Boeheim both need to have the games of their lives for the Orange to be in this one at the end. Can Syracuse turn on the comeback heroics at the game’s outset, instead of waiting until the second half when it’s potentially too late? That will ultimately determine their fate in North Carolina tonight. There should be season-ending urgency from the tip against the Cardinals, and unless the Orange can play that way, they won’t stand a chance.

Syracuse will stand to play the winner of Virginia and Notre Dame (tonight’s 7 p.m. match-up) if they can beat Louisville. That potential semi-final game would be Friday the 13th at 9 p.m.

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