Yesterday’s blowout win over Georgia Tech – a fellow NCAA Tournament bubble team – certainly helps Syracuse’s resume when Selection Sunday rolls around. But based on the last 10 years of history with the selection committee, the Orange still might have a little bit of work left to do to lock down a spot in the Big Dance.
For fun (because I really know how to have a good time!), this morning I decided to go back through the fields for each tournament since 2007. I picked out every Power 5 team that earned an at-large berth with fewer than 20 victories, to try to get a feel for where Syracuse stands compared to teams in similar predicaments in recent years who happened to get into the tournament.
Now, don’t get me wrong – Syracuse also has a few things in its favor. Getting to 10 victories in the ACC was massive for this team, which now sits at 18-13 overall and 10-8 in conference play. Its conference mark actually bests most of the teams I’m going to be talking about here.
So who are these teams? Well, since the 2007 NCAA Tournament, there have been 19 teams from Power 5 programs to earn at-large berths with fewer than 20 wins:
- 2016: Syracuse (19-13/9-9), Vanderbilt (19-13/11-7), Oregon State (19-12/9-9), Texas Tech (19-12/9-9)
- 2015: Oklahoma State (18-13/8-10)
- 2014: Nebraska (19-12/11-7)
- 2012: West Virginia (19-13/9-9)
- 2011: Tennessee (19-14/8-8), Penn State (19-14/9-9), Illinois (19-13/9-9), USC (19-14/10-8), Michigan State (19-14/9-9)
- 2010: Wake Forest (19-10/9-7)
- 2009: Wisconsin (19-12/10-8), Arizona (19-13/9-9)
- 2008: Arizona (19-14/8-10), Oregon (18-13/9-9), Kentucky (18-12/12-4)
- 2007: Stanford (18-12/10-8)
Now, you may notice a couple of things right away. In recent years, unless you hit that 19-win mark, you’re almost certainly not going to get into the tournament. That’s a troubling thought for Syracuse fans, and makes next week’s ACC Tournament game with Miami absolutely crucial. A win over the Hurricanes will put Syracuse at 19-13 overall, and even if the Orange then lose to North Carolina in the next round, as you can see above there have been several 19-14 squads to make the tournament over the past 10 years.
The more troubling part of the equation, however, is the RPI. Right now, Syracuse is sitting at No. 80 in the latest RPI, which is… less than ideal. That matches the worst RPI for any of the 19 teams above (USC in 2011), with the next worst being Kentucky in 2008 (75), followed by Oregon that same year (72). Stanford in 2007 had an RPI of 69, and Syracuse had an RPI of 68 last season.
But for the most part, the teams from Power 5 conferences who have made the tournament with fewer than 20 victories have had an RPI somewhere in the 30s or 40s (with Oregon State, at 29, being the best over the last 10 seasons). Obviously, Syracuse can boost its RPI next week at the ACC Tournament, and that’ll be essential to lock down a spot in the field.
But let’s go back to the conference records for each of the teams to have made it to the Big Dance listed above. Only six of the 19 teams reached double figures in the wins column in conference play, and they weren’t doing it against this year’s ACC schedule.
Sure, Syracuse got off fairly easy with its conference schedule this year, only getting North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame, and Virginia once each. But the Orange still won 10 games against what some consider to be among the most loaded conferences in college basketball history. That certainly has to count for something… right?
Obviously, Syracuse’s destiny is in its own hands at this point. If the Orange can play even close to the way they did yesterday against Georgia Tech, they have a real shot to not just beat Miami (for the second time this season), but also knock off UNC. A win over North Carolina would get Syracuse to 20 wins, and absolutely lock the Orange into a tournament berth.
As it currently stands, with the bubble being what a lot of folks are calling one of the weakest in recent memory, Syracuse is still in fairly good shape. But with only four teams in the past 10 years getting an at-large berth with 18 wins, and each of those teams boasting a stronger RPI than the Orange currently have, it’s crucial for Syracuse to get a win on Miami.
Until then, we’ll continue to sweat out our chances of crashing the Big Dance and pissing off the prognosticators one more time.