It has been a peculiar beginning to the 2018-2019 Syracuse men’s basketball season. Returning all five starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team, adding transfer Elijah Hughes and bringing in a freshman class had saddled Orange fans with expectations of Syracuse being one of the better teams in the country.
A No. 16 ranking to start season quickly disappeared after falling to 2-2 with losses against UConn and Oregon in Madison Square Garden. The Orange rebounded to beat Ohio State on the road and get back in the Top 25, only to fall back out of the rankings after back-to-back losses to Old Dominion and a ranked Buffalo team.
So, here they sit…8-4 after a topsy turvy start to the season with one more tuneup before conference play starts next week. What’s to make of the season so far?
If we scour the various rankings to check the landscape and where Syracuse fits in it, here’s what we find:
I always like to start at Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. It takes all the other rankings into consideration and combines them all into a simple look at “if the tournament started today, would Syracuse be in it?”
Well, in a word…no. Syracuse is not one of the seven ACC schools that Lunardi has placed in his field of 68. Syracuse is listed in his “Next Four Out” section, meaning they’re on the outside looking in.
How about those rankings systems? Are they any more kind to Syracuse?
- ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index (BPI) – the BPI predicts future performance. Syracuse checks in at No. 38, ninth among ACC teams. For a reference point, all seven of the ACC teams that are in Lunardi’s bracket reside in the Top 31 in the BPI (with Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina making up four of the Top 5). But, at least Syracuse is not far off in this ranking.
- Strength of Schedule (SOS) – Syracuse is often maligned for its non-conference schedule. Head coach Jim Boeheim ends up defending the schedule and watches as a couple of the “cupcakes” Syracuse plays in November and December end up being in the tournament in wreaking havoc. This year, Syracuse has played three teams (Oregon, Ohio State and Buffalo) that appear on Lunardi’s bracket. Syracuse’s strength of schedule stands at No. 168 right now. Obviously, this will change as they butt heads against ACC teams for the next two months. So, not to worry. As a comparison, Virginia (whose BPI ranking was No. 2) has a SOS ranking of 171 thus far.
- KenPom – Ken Pomeroy’s analytical power poll ranks every team in the country. The Orange check in at 34th, good for seventh in the ACC and ahead of Louisville, a Lunardi pick to make the tournament. Of teams with at least four losses this season, Syracuse ranks fourth behind Villanova, Purdue and Florida.
- NET Rankings – The NET rankings have replaced the old RPI system, which delighted many fans and experts. The NET rankings are based on a team value index (which rewards teams for beating good teams), net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage (which factors in location and result) and scoring margin (which is capped at 10 points to deter running up the score). The first rankings came out in late November and they were widely chastised and mocked. So, take this with a grain of salt but, Syracuse is ranked 67th on that list currently (10th among ACC teams).
Looking more broadly, in the ACC, the only team that has more losses currently is Georgia Tech (6-5). Miami and Wake Forest both have four losses like Syracuse.
It is definitely premature to put a whole lot of stock into the rankings at this point. But, it is clear Syracuse has some work to do as it navigates through the conference slate.
What was once thought to be a season to sit comfortably and watch Syracuse jockey for a Top 4 seed has now brought the Orange basketball team to a familiar place: squarely on the bubble, currently on the outside looking in.