Syracuse basketball needs one more win to get off NCAA bubble

Here we are watching the calendar turn to March and we think we know the fate of the Syracuse men’s basketball team. We think the win over Duke was enough to push them firmly into the field of 68. But, after watching Louisville dismantle Syracuse, who once again showed its diminished play on the road, how sure are we that the Orange are in?

Just a month ago, I put together an informal exercise to tally up all the ratings indexes to determine how Syracuse stacked up against the rest of the bubble teams in the ACC. Again, the teams in question were: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Miami, Clemson, NC State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi now lists nine ACC teams among the tournament field, one less than last month. And whereas Syracuse was not even mentioned among those in the “Next Four Out.” But, since then, Lunardi has moved Syracuse into the bracket, placing them as a 10-seed and one of his “Last Four Byes,” along with Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest were listed as two of his “Last Four Out.” Miami was safely in.

So, it would appear that the Orange, according to Lunardi, has better than even odds to get in the tournament. But, they still have work to do. But how much work?

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As a refresher, below are all the various indexes available:

  • ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index (BPI) – the BPI predicts future performance. The eight teams in our discussion rank in that poll, ranging from 28th to 90th, with Syracuse improving from 34th to 32nd to place them second on the list.
  • Strength of Schedule – Clemson has the third toughest schedule in the country, ranking them tops among the ACC bubble teams. All eight teams fall in the Top 37, continuing to show that the ACC is the toughest conference in the country. Syracuse ranks 4th among the eight teams, as their SOS has gone from the 57th toughest in the nation to 25th.
  • 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 29th to 104th, with the Orange coming in at 51st, still fifth out of the eight, despite moving up three spots overall.
  • RPI – Now, if you remember, Syracuse’s RPI ranking of 74 last year was the lowest ever RPI ranking for an at-large bid that was selected to the tournament. A month ago, Syracuse’s RPI sat at 90. It has since climbed to 79th. But, that still only has them 6th out of the eight teams, which range from 34th to 104th.

Again, each team was ranked 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:

Miami – 10
Wake Forest – 11
Clemson – 12
Virginia Tech – 15
Syracuse – 17
Pittsburgh – 19
Georgia Tech – 29
NC State – 31

Compare those numbers to last month:

Clemson – 8
Wake Forest – 9
Miami – 14
Virginia Tech – 16
Syracuse – 23
Pittsburgh – 23
Georgia Tech – 23
NC State – 28

The same four teams that were ahead of Syracuse last month are still ahead of them this month. The same three teams that were below the Orange are still below them. So, what gives?

Again, the conference and overall standings help to fill in the holes that analytics cannot:

Virginia Tech (10-7) (21-8)
Miami (10-7) (21-9)
Syracuse (9-8) (17-13)
Georgia Tech (8-9) (17-13)
Wake Forest (7-9) (16-12)
Clemson (4-12) (14-14)
NC State (4-13) (15-15)
Pittsburgh (4-13) (15-15)

The first thing that jumps off the page is how high Clemson is in the indexes and, yet, the Tigers are just 4-12 in conference and .500 overall. In its last four home losses, the average margin of defeat has been just two points. But, with a record like Clemson, NC State and Pittsburgh all have, it doesn’t appear like they will have enough to convince the selection committee.

Georgia Tech’s index rankings leave much to be desired. But, with wins against North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame (not to mention Syracuse), the Yellow Jackets have a compelling case. Saturday’s road contest at the Carrier Dome looms large as Georgia Tech tries to even up its conference record.

With 10 conference wins and 21 overall wins apiece, it would appear Virginia Tech and Miami would have to self-implode in the next two weeks to not garner an at-large bid.

And that leaves Syracuse. A win over Georgia Tech would give them 10 conference wins. Check mark. Eighteen wins, most years, would fall short of consideration. Not this year. Not in this ACC.

A month ago, it seemed like the Orange needed another signature win over a Virginia, Duke or Louisville. Two out of three ain’t bad. Check mark.

They needed to go 4-5 after the Florida State win to equal last season’s 9-9 conference record. Even with a loss Saturday, Syracuse will be 9-9 in conference. Check mark.

The home wins over Florida State, Virginia and Duke give Syracuse the benefit of the doubt. It seems reasonable to expect that, as long as they don’t lose to Georgia Tech AND get bounced in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the Orange can sneak in the NCAA Tournament. Anything better than that and Syracuse can feel comfortable in a couple Sundays.

But, if they were to lose those two games and go into Selection Sunday having lost six of their last seven games, those seats wherever the team may watch the selection show will not feel all that cozy.

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Matt Dagostino

About Matt Dagostino

Matt currently works as an on-air talent and producer for Turner Sports in Atlanta, where he is from. Among his responsibilities are voicing over highlights for NCAA.com, NBA.com, WNBA.com, and PGA.com. He has also served as an associate producer for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs and TBS’s coverage of the MLB Postseason. Matt also has experience as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer and as a PA announcer in D-I college athletics. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @MattDags28.
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