Syracuse may not be participating in the postseason this year, but that doesn’t stop us from asking the two most uttered word in sports fandom: “What if?”
As in, what if Syracuse was actually eligible, and the only thing stopping it from making the tournament was its resume? Right now, ESPN Bracketology has UCLA at its very least team in right now and Stanford as its very least team out.
So let’s take a look at their resumes, and see where Syracuse stacks up.
Let’s start with UCLA, which is currently 17-12 overall and 9-7 in Pac-12 play with an RPI of 47 and a SOS of 13. The biggest number there is obviously the strength of schedule, which is significantly better than both Syracuse and Stanford. Although the Bruin’s win/loss isn’t exactly eye popping, they should close the season on a three game winning streak. They’ve already won a 88-66 laugher against Washington earlier this week, and close the season with games against Washington State and USC, who both have sub .500 records. A win (or two) in the conference tournament would go a long way to cementing a tournament bid. As it relates to Syracuse, UCLA is 1-1 against common foe California. The Bruins cruised past the Bears at home on Jan. 11, 73-54, while dropping a two-point decision on the road on Feb. 7.
Stanford, according to ESPN, is the first team on the outside looking in. While the Cardinal has only nine losses, they’ve also played three less games than the Bruins. At an overall record of 17-9 (8-6), the Cardinal has a fairly comparable RPI or 52, but Stanford gets hurt by its SOS, which is at 79. That will improve slightly with a season finale against No. 7 Arizona and a 21-8 Oregon team, but what really hurts the Cardinal is two losses to UCLA and an ugly loss to DePaul (yeah, that DePaul) in non-conference play. For what it’s worth, the Cardinal also beat Cal twice.
That leads us to Syracuse. The Orange at (18-10, 9-6 ACC) has improved its RPI up to 62 with recent wins over No. 12 Louisville and No. 9 Notre Dame. Syracuse’s back-loaded schedule has them at an SOS of 70 right now, but that will change with games against No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Virginia. SU would also close its season against fellow bubble team North Carolina State in what would’ve been a bracket buster game. If the Orange was still eligible, it would be kicking itself for what would’ve been a resume win against Villanova on Dec. 20.
So what does this all mean in the world of ‘what ifs?’ It probably means that Syracuse would be right in the thick of the bubble discussion. To be sure, it seems like a committee would give UCLA an edge over the Orange right now because of the SOS, but it’s a basic coin flip between Syracuse and Stanford. Still, an upset here and a ‘bad’ loss there could easily change what is always a fluid situation. If Syracuse was eligible at the moment, an upset over Duke or a win against NC State and one or two more in the ACC Tournament could’ve been enough for the Orange.
Could have been being the operative phrase.