What a difference a couple of weeks can make…
Less than three weeks ago, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had all but buried the Orange from making the field of 68, saying, “The following is presented as a public service so that we may prepare ourselves for the inevitable: Syracuse is going to miss the 2017 NCAA Tournament.”
Lunardi cited Syracuse’s sub-standard RPI ranking of 161 at the time, which Syracuse.com’s Brent Axe noted just four days later had already risen to 133. But now, after Saturday’s win over Florida State, it has climbed to 90.
It will be interesting to see if Lunardi has re-opened the conversation as to whether or not Syracuse has a shot. As of Jan. 30, there were 10 Atlantic Coast Conference teams included in the most recent field of Lunardi’s “Bracketology” on ESPN.com. As recently as four days earlier, three more ACC teams were mentioned as the “Next Four Out.” Only two ACC teams have been omitted from the conversation of late: Boston College and Syracuse.
To narrow the debate, let’s eliminate Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, which all have far superior tournament resumes. And, let’s rid ourselves of Boston College for this discussion, as they seem to be too far back to make any noise come Selection Sunday.
That leaves us with: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Miami, Clemson, NC State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh…and Syracuse. Eight teams, which right now, are battling for four spots in Lunardi’s bracket.
So, let’s play amateur bracketologist, shall we?
In looking at all the various indexes available, a broader picture can be established:
- ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index (BPI) – the BPI predicts future performance. The eight teams in our discussion rank in that poll, ranging from 29th to 101st, with Syracuse third on the list at 34th.
- Strength of Schedule – Wake Forest takes the cake in this poll, having the toughest strength of schedule in the country. Ranging from 1st to 58th, it makes sense that these eight teams rank high on this poll, with the ACC being the toughest conference in the country. Syracuse ranks 7th among the eight teams with the 57th toughest SOS in the nation.
- KenPom – Ken Pomeroy has created a well-respected analytical power poll, ranking every team in the country. Our group of eight teams rank anywhere from 31st to 86th, with the Orange coming at 54th, fifth out of the eight.
- RPI – this leads us back to 90. Syracuse’s RPI ranking of 90 is the lowest of the eight teams involved in this discussion. Wake Forest’s is the highest at 30. And, let’s remind you that, with an RPI ranking of 74, last year’s Syracuse team had the lowest ever RPI ranking for an at-large bid into the tournament.
To try and sum up these rankings and place a “value” on them, let’s rank all eight teams 1-8 in each poll, with 1 being the best and 8 being the worst. Total all those ranks up from each poll and get an aggregate total. Low score wins.
My light computing skills get me the following totals:
Clemson – 8
Wake Forest – 9
Miami – 14
Virginia Tech – 16
Syracuse – 23
Pittsburgh – 23
Georgia Tech – 23
NC State – 28
So, the four teams Lunardi had in the field are the top four in this informal ranking system I put together. And while, before, Syracuse wasn’t even mentioned in the latest “Bracketology,” it would seem the win over the Seminoles has at least catapulted the Orange into “eh…maybe we should think about them” territory.
I am definitely pro-analytics. So, I see the merit in them and they help me to understand why Lunardi projects things the way he has. If only the ACC standings were to be seen, one may have a different opinion. Look at these conference records thus far:
Virginia Tech (5-4)
Georgia Tech (5-4)
NC State (3-6)
Wake Forest (3-6)
Wake Forest and Clemson (the two highest-rated teams in the various indexes) are just 5-12 combined in-conference, while Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Syracuse (with the Yellow Jackets and the Orange in the lower half of the indexes) are the only teams in the discussion with winning conference records. And the Orange are 3-1 against the rest of this group, with double-digit wins over Miami and Pittsburgh.
The case can certainly be made now. It’s not a slam-dunk. Heck, it’s not even a contested 15-footer. But, Saturday’s win put central New York back on the NCAA Tournament Bubble map. But, more must be done.
With nine regular season games remaining, can the Orange learn to win on the road, something they have yet to do this year? Can they knock off one or two of the likes of Virginia, Duke or Louisville to give them some more signature wins? Can they collect a few wins against fellow ACC bubble teams NC State, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech to sway some of those index numbers in their favor?
To match last year’s 19 wins, the Orange need six wins in their final nine games. To equal last year’s 9-9 conference record, Syracuse must go 4-5 the rest of the way. And if they do, and all other things are equal, we will find out just how much weight coach Jim Boeheim’s nine-game suspension a year ago had in the eyes of the selection committee.
There are five weeks left for Syracuse to pass the eye test and skew the numbers in its favor. In a season of perpetual shuffling in the standings, in the ACC, we must wait and see.