Welcome back to this year’s edition of Bubble Watch. For what feels like 82nd straight year, Syracuse is on the bubble once again. It is the question we are all wondering at this point. Can the Orange run the table and go dancing? After dropping a heartbreaker against Clemson and failing to close out Duke, Syracuse finds itself in a tough position.
In a year where the ACC might legitimately only send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, it feels like there has to be some way for the Orange to still get in. The conference has not sent fewer than six teams to the tournament since Louisville joined in 2014.
At this stage, Syracuse should not be in the field of 68. It’s biggest accomplish this season is it’s three quadrant-1 wins. However, with a strength of record that ranks 72nd in the country and a 1-5 record in quadrant 2 games, it is hard to justify the Orange even being in the discussion. On top of that, the current NET ranking of 65 isn’t all that impressive. That doesn’t even take into account Syracuse’s non-conference strength of schedule, which ranks 166th in the country and 10th in the ACC.
What lies ahead does not paint a pretty picture for SU either. The Orange ranks 63rd in remaining strength of schedule, second worst in the conference. Normally, that would be a good thing as Jim Boeheim’s crew could rack up some wins and hope to end up on the right side of the bubble.
This year, Syracuse finds itself needed a quality win or two to pad its resume. I don’t see the committee looking that body of work and putting the Orange in, especially in such an open year. There are so many average teams. SU needs to find a way to stand out.
Looking closer at the schedule, just about has to win out to have a chance. With Wake Forest at home on Saturday, followed by a visit from NC State, those are must-win games.
SU then has back-to-back road games against No. 8 Florida State and No. 5 Louisville. It is a tall task, but the Orange has to win one of those games to have a chance. The only win this group has over a ranked team this season was against a Virginia squad on its way out of the rankings.
Take your picks as to which one of those games feels more winnable. Picking up a high, quadrant 1 victory would leave a positive impression on the tournament selection committee.
After those two ranked games, SU has some very winnable games remaining. First would be Georgia Tech, whom Syracuse crushed by 40 earlier this year. Then Jim Boeheim will visit Jeff Capel and Pittsburgh. Again, these two games feel like must wins.
The Orange will return home to host the Tar Heels. Now, North Carolina has been terrible this season. However, that does not mean this game will be a cake walk. Cole Anthony is back and SU always has problems with UNC. The last time Syracuse beat Carolina was in 2011, going 0-8 since then.
To wrap up the season, SU visits Boston College and Miami, both winnable games. I say winnable games, but this team has been terrible in those this season.
So let’s get hypothetical here.
After all, that is the point of Bubble Watch. If Syracuse finishes the season 7-2, with losses to UNC and either Florida State or Louisville, they have a shot to get in. It would probably require a win in the ACC tournament to hit the 20-win threshold. That might mean anything more than reaching a nice round number on paper, but it is something to sell the committee on.
However, if the Orange finish 7-2, but with losses to Louisville and Florida State, I think SU will be on the wrong side of the bubble. Syracuse needs one statement win against a ranked opponent. Non-conference losses to Oklahoma State, Iowa, Penn State and Georgetown don’t help. A team with no bad losses but a mostly “meh” resume often gets left out of the selection process.
For those who simply want to say, “it’s the ACC though, a good conference record will get us in,” don’t be too sure. This is by far the worst year in the conference’s recent history. Only Duke, Florida State and Louisville are ranked in the NET top 50. It is not a guarantee defending national champion Virginia makes the field.
So in short, I’m still telling you there is a chance. The margin for error is shrinking by the day as close losses continue to turn up and opportunities to beat top-10 teams are missed. It’s not time to buy NIT tickets yet, but we are getting close.