First thing’s first: Syracuse is in the NCAA Tournament. And they were the very least team selected to dance.
This naturally has made the Orange a target among teams and their fan bases that didn’t make it. At first glance, it’s easy to understand why. Syracuse’s 20-13 record was underwhelming, as was its 8-10 regular season record in the ACC.
But take a closer look at the numbers, and Syracuse’s NCAA resume wasn’t nearly as bad as the “eyeball test” would have you believe.
Review this chart, compiled from the ESPN RPI rankings, and you’ll see what I mean. To prevent tainting your opinion, I’ll remove the names of the teams:
Objectively speaking, on a blind test, who has the resume here? It’s definitely not teams one or three, given their weak non-conference schedule and lack of quadrant 1 wins. Team two has a decent case for Q1 and SOS, but fall behind in the non-conference SOS and overall RPI.
The two teams with the strongest case of this group are teams four and five, but even then, team five has the best overall RPI, SOS, NCSOS and Q1 wins.
By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out what five teams are posted here. One is Syracuse, and the other four were the “first four out” according to the NCAA selection committee.
Here is the chart with the names revealed:
The committee this year also said when determining which bubble team made it, they strongly factored in SOS (already featured above), away/neutral wins and wins against at-large NCAA teams.
In terms of SOS, Syracuse is obviously favored.
How about road wins? Well, USC went 5-2 on neutral courts and 6-5 on the road. Meanwhile, 2-2 on neutral courts and 4-6 on the road. The edge goes to the Trojans here.
It’s the third category that really sets Syracuse apart from USC. The Trojans didn’t beat a single team that received an at-large berth. The Orange had three wins from this category (Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech).
One team that arguably has a better resume than the Orange is Middle Tennessee State, with an SOS of 86, a NCSOS of 12, and an RPI of 33. They also were 2-3 in Q1 games.
Perhaps what hurt the Blue Raiders the most was 11 of its 23 wins came against Q4 teams, and also had a loss against a Q4 team, something that none of the above bubble teams had.
Notre Dame also may have a gripe, since it played without Bonzie Colston and Matt Farrell for long stretches of the season, but still managed to win 20 games, one of them being a head-to-head win over the Orange at the Carrier Dome.
It’s unclear how much the committee factored, or didn’t factor, those absences in making its decision. Notre Dame played significantly better with the team at full strength.
I think in the end, the selection committee really factored in non-conference scheduling in making its decision. Also, remember that head-to-head matches don’t play a factor in the committee’s decision.
The bottom line is this: Syracuse very much belonged in the conversation, and there are legitimate and reasonable arguments to be made that the Orange objectively had the better resume.