Where is Syracuse basketball on the NCAA Tournament bubble?

Buddy Boeheim Duke
Feb. 1, 2020; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Buddy Boeheim (35) drives against the Duke Blue Devils during a 97-88 loss. Mandatory Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Over the last six weeks or so, we have seen the Syracuse Orange resemble a basketball team that is deserving of being in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid. Had I mentioned that when they were 4-4 or 5-5 halfway through December, I would have been laughed off the website. But, as of the end of January, the Orange had quietly snuck into the bottom spot on ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” section of his Bracketology page. As of Lunardi’s latest installment on Tuesday, though, the Orange no longer make the cut.

But, as crazy as it may have sounded a few weeks ago: do the Orange actually have a shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament?

In the past, I would compare Syracuse’s rankings with the rest of the bubble teams in the ACC. But, with the conference only projected to get a handful of teams (as opposed to the 7-8 bids we’re used to seeing from the ACC), we will instead look at Syracuse’s resume compared to the 12 teams that make up Lunardi’s “Last Four In,” “First Four Out” and “Next Four Out.”

The “Last Four In” teams are: Mississippi State, Purdue, VCU, Memphis

The “First Four Out” teams are: Virginia, Minnesota, East Tennessee St., Xavier

The “Next Four Out” teams are: Cincinnati, Alabama, Georgetown, Utah State

Before we dive into the numbers, can we just stop and stare at some of the teams on those lists? I mean…East Tennessee State? Utah State? THESE are some of the teams among those fighting for NCAA Tournament bids, while the ACC will struggle to get more than four or five teams in. A crazy season, indeed…

Admittedly, this is one of my favorite columns to write each season, if for no other reason than we get to be all nerdy and crunch numbers to give us answers. It also helps that Syracuse is perpetually a bubble team. Otherwise, this exercise would be one of excess…

As always, the tried-and-true method of dissecting these teams’ seasons uses the following ranking systems:

  •  ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index (BPI) – the BPI predicts future performance. The 13 teams in our discussion ranked from 14th to 65th, with the Orange being eighth on the list at 46th.
  • Strength of Schedule – Ranging from 2nd to 143rd, the list has a large window to fit in. Syracuse ranked sixth among the teams in question, ranking 45th in the country.
  • KenPom – Ken Pomeroy’s analytical power poll ranks every team in the country. The 13 teams ranked anywhere from 29th to 67th on his list. Syracuse was towards the rear, placing tenth on the list with a ranking of 53rd.
  • NET – The NET ranking system, which replaced the RPI as the primary evaluating tool last season, ranks these 13 teams anywhere between 36th (VCU) and 65th (Syracuse).
  • RPI – We’ll still keep the RPI in this exercise, even if it may only be a secondary measuring stick now. The RPI saw East Tennessee State rank the highest at 30th and Syracuse pulled up the rear at 92nd.
  • Quadrant 1 Wins – This category is the least helpful in our math. With plenty of games to play yet, nobody has really separated themselves from the pack in terms of Quadrant 1 wins. All 13 teams have between zero and three Quadrant 1 wins. That’s the downside. On a positive note, Syracuse is one of the two teams that has three.

» Related: Syracuse basketball’s postseason hangs in the balance

Once again, we take all the data and run them through the DDD (Dumbed-Down Dagostino) Index. For each rankings system, each team gets a point assigned to them, one through 13.

If a team is the best in that category, it receives one point. Twelve points goes to the worst team in the category. Add up all the points in each category. This is like golf, where the low score wins.

Drum roll, please…ahem…and here are your final standings in the DDD:

  • Purdue – 22
  • Mississippi State – 28
  • Minnesota – 28
  • VCU – 35
  • Xavier – 38
  • Cincinnati – 40
  • Alabama – 43
  • Georgetown – 43
  • Utah State – 44
  • Virginia – 45
  • East Tennessee State – 49
  • Syracuse – 51
  • Memphis – 58

So, what does this all say?

  1. I have too much time on my hands.
  2. Syracuse has got its work cut out if it wants to jump from 12th to somewhere in the Top 4 spots.

Admittedly, I did the same exercise earlier in the week when Lunardi still had Syracuse on the “Next Four Out” list and it was a bit more optimistic. Here were the results of that DDD:

  • Minnesota – 22
  • Mississippi St. – 23
  • Rhode Island – 31
  • Virginia – 34
  • Alabama – 35
  • Cincinnati – 36
  • Utah St. – 37
  • Syracuse – 40
  • East Tennessee St. – 41
  • Memphis – 50
  • NC State – 51
  • Virginia Tech – 51

So, certainly, things are fluid on almost a daily basis…

But with, perhaps, some more optimism, we can look at the Orange’s remaining schedule. At 13-9 currently, ESPN’s projections have them finishing at 18-13.

There are only two games in which Syracuse will be decided underdogs, Feb. 15th at Florida State and Feb. 19th at Louisville. A road win against either of those teams would immediately boost Syracuse’s resume.

The other seven games (home games against Wake Forest, NC State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina and road contests against Pittsburgh, Boston College and Miami) are all very winnable.

Maybe they don’t win all seven. But, certainly five or six wins is attainable. Perhaps the most likely outcome is actually 19-12 instead of 18-13 as the Orange would embark on the ACC Tournament.

As of now, it does not seem LIKELY that the Orange are destined for the NCAA Tournament. Is there a somewhat reasonable path to get them in the tournament? Yes, but it probably involves:

  • Beating either Florida State or Louisville
  • Winning six of the other seven regular season games
  • Have a reasonable showing in the ACC Tournament (at least one win, maybe two)

In another month of so, let’s do this whole exercise again and see if Syracuse has got a better case to make to the tournament committee.

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Matt Dagostino
About Matt Dagostino 88 Articles
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.