The Bubble Waiting Game Begins For Syracuse…Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2017
It’s going to be a long 96 hours for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim as his team waits to see if it has done enough to warrant inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Yesterday’s five-point loss to Miami (FL) dropped the Orange to 18-14 on the season (10-9 ACC) and have firmly planted the tradition-rich powerhouse on the bubble. With six wins over the RPI top 50, Syracuse has proven it can beat NCAA Tournament quality teams (all of which came on its home floor). But with 14 losses overall, including five outside of the RPI top 100, is Syracuse anything more than a mediocre beneficiary of playing in one of the strongest conferences in college basketball history?
Losers of five of their last seven games and with a scary RPI rating of #84, Syracuse faces two enormous barriers to entry based on historical precedent. Despite the persistent narrative that an entire body of work is what the committee evaluates, there has been a subtle preference for taking teams that are playing their best basketball down the stretch. The RPI is another albatross, as inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament would make the Orange the lowest at-large selection since the peculiar inclusion of Air Force in 2004.
The analytical models, however, are a bit more favorable. KenPom rates the Orange as 47th as of today, showing a team that won four Tier A games after stumbling out of the gate with an 11-9 start. Their five-game winning streak spanning late January into early February included wins over tournament locks Florida State and Virginia, and a likely participant in Wake Forest. And after a subsequent three-game skid, the Orange responded with their seminal season moment in vanquishing Duke in a thrilling home victory. If any of that sounds familiar, it should — recall that a #10 seed Orange advanced all the way to the Final Four just a season ago.
For Boeheim’s part, he has been at this long enough to know that whatever happens now is beyond his control. But he didn’t miss the opportunity in the postgame press conference to cite the league’s strength in espousing his team’s case, or in favorably comparing this team’s profile to the surprising squad of a year ago: “I know our profile is better this year than it was last year. And I think the committee is looking for teams who can win games. I think we’ve proven that.” To echo the Hall of Fame coach, a winning record in this year’s ACC should be rewarded for its ability to beat several teams with legitimate Final Four aspirations. It’s always nice to give the little guy a shot too, but if the goal is to include the 36 best at-large teams in the country, it is difficult to conclude that Syracuse isn’t one of them.