After seeing Georgia Tech top Syracuse live and in the flesh in a snooze fest of a game last week and then watching the Orange bow down to Virginia last weekend, it seemed the right time to start pouring dirt on the Orange’s NCAA tournament hopes.
But, a strange thing happened on a stroll through Big Monday…
A road win against a decent Louisville team put Syracuse back on the map. ESPN announcer Sean McDonough proclaimed during the broadcast that, with a Syracuse victory, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi would move the Orange from the list of “Next Four Out” to the top team on the “Last Four Out” list (Lunardi’s bracket had not been updated at the time of this writing). As a frame of reference, Lunardi had the Cardinals positioned as an 8-seed heading into Monday’s bout with the Orange.
So…it’s that time again, boys and girls. Time to play Armchair Bracketologist as we compare the resumes of Atlantic Coast Conference teams that stand to be in the bubble conversation come March.
Using Lunardi’s Bracketology as a reference point, he had nine ACC teams in the tournament heading into Monday’s action.
Virginia, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Miami all get free passes in this exercise, as all are a 5-seed or better in Lunardi’s field. Conversely, Pittsburgh seems too far out of the tournament picture at this point to take them seriously. And, while Wake Forest’s 2-9 conference record and 9-14 overall record seem pretty lackluster, its spot in some of the indexes gives it the slightest bit of hope, should Danny Manning’s club get hot in the season’s final month.
So, of the nine remaining teams, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech are currently in the field of 68. The Wolfpack and the Hokies are among the “Last Four In.” Syracuse is the only team in the “Next Four Out.” Boston College, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Wake Forest are nowhere to be found on Lunardi’s projections.
By the looks of it, nine teams are battling it out for (most likely) four spots in the field.
Again, a sweeping look at the various indexes across college basketball paint a broader brush stroke over each team’s case to be a part of March Madness. Those indexes include:
- ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index (BPI) – the BPI predicts future performance. The nine teams in our discussion rank in that poll, ranging from 26th to 109th, with Syracuse fifth on the list at 52nd.
- Strength of Schedule – One possible explanation for Wake Forest’s subpar record this season is that they have the 8th most difficult schedule in the country, to date. Ranging from 8th to 60th, the ACC teams show once again that the conference is one of (if not THE) toughest conference in America in 2017-18. Syracuse falls 8th among the nine teams with the 58th toughest SOS in the nation.
- KenPom – Ken Pomeroy’s analytical power poll ranks every team in the country. The nine ACC teams in questions rank anywhere from 22nd (Florida State) to 108th (Georgia Tech). The Orange check in at 44th, good for fifth out of the nine teams.
- RPI – This is Syracuse’s best category. The Orange are third among the nine teams, with the 45th best RPI. Louisville’s is 24th and is best among the group. Georgia Tech is all the way down in 133rd place in the RPI rankings. And, just like last year, it’s worth pointing out that the 2015-16 Syracuse team made the NCAA Tournament with an RPI ranking of 74, the lowest ever RPI ranking for an at-large bid into the tournament. So, the Orange are clearly within that for now.
Now, we can take all these fancy polls and dumb them down by ranking each team 1-9 in each poll, with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst. After totaling up the ranks from each poll, we get an aggregate total, with the low score winning.
- Louisville: 8
- Florida State: 10
- Notre Dame: 18
- Virginia Tech: 19
- Syracuse: 21
- NC State: 21
- Boston College: 24
- Wake Forest: 25
- Georgia Tech: 34
Of the top four slots (that presumably will round out the ACC teams that make the tournament), Louisville, Florida State and Virginia Tech are included in Lunardi’s bracket. Notre Dame, who finished 3rd in our system, is not. At 13-10 overall and 3-7 in conference, Mike Brey’s team has limped into February with seven straight losses. The loss of Bonzie Coulson has dampened the Irish’s tournament hopes. Despite a solid position in our ranking system, it seems the Irish may be on the outside looking in when all is said and done.
The next candidates to replace Notre Dame are NC State, who Lunardi had as one of the “Last Four In”, and Syracuse, who Lunardi has will reportedly promote to the top team on the “Last Four Out” list after beating Louisville on the road.
Looking at the basic conference standings, here’s how they shake out:
- NC State (6-4)
- Florida Sate (6-5)
- Louisville (6-5)
- Virginia Tech (5-5)
- Syracuse (5-6)
- Boston College (4-6)
- Georgia Tech (4-6)
- Notre Dame (3-7)
- Wake Forest (2-9)
NC State, Florida State and Louisville further bolster their status by being at the top of this list, too. Virginia Tech and Syracuse solidify themselves as clear bubble teams. And as was shown earlier, Notre Dame’s conference record and free fall looks like it will end up costing them.
Two seasons ago, the Orange were 9-9 in the ACC and made the tournament. Last season, they were 10-8 in conference and missed the tournament. Here are the seven remaining games on Syracuse’s schedule:
- vs. Wake Forest
- vs. NC State
- at Miami
- vs. North Carolina
- at Duke
- at Boston College
- vs. Clemson
Optimistically, you would like to think that they can handle Wake Forest and Boston College to give them at least seven conference wins. A win against an unranked NC State team that has played very well this season is far from a given. And four games remaining against ranked opponents don’t look very promising as of now.
Let’s say Syracuse gets one win out of those five games and goes 8-10 in conference, bringing their overall record to 19-12. The 19 wins would equal their total from two seasons ago and would be one more than they got last season. And that doesn’t include being able to get a win or two in the ACC Tournament.
At this point, it seems Syracuse is going to need a resume booster in the form of a win over a ranked foe. That gives the Orange the best chance to catapult to a .500 or better conference record and a 20-win season.
But, as of now, it seems like Syracuse is accurately portrayed as a team squarely on the bubble. Again.
Where have we seen this before? Oh yeah… basically every season in recent memory.