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Elite Status and The Big Lebowski

I had the chance to see Around the Horn today where the question came up "is Syracuse the #1 team in the country"? In a panel that consisted of Bill Plaschke, Woody Paige, Michael Smith, and Tim Cowlishaw, only Smith agreed that our body of work, depth and chemistry was worthy of the #1 ranking. The rest stated some form of "no", offering the same tired analysis we have hashed over time and time again…#AddThemToTheList, by the way.

These comments, combined with the recent posts on our place in the pantheon of modern college hoops programs, led me to waste an hour and do a simple back-of-the-napkin analysis to try and figure out where we really fit in the comparison of elite programs.

To make sense of this, I basically broke down the analysis on two variables: performance and brand.

Performance – measured by success in the NCAA tournament during the modern era (starting in 1979). Rather than look at winning percentage, number of years in the tournament, etc., I only counted Elite Eight, Final Fours and Championships.

Brand – Perception of a school’s brand equity among those who follow college basketball. Rank is based on data from Turnkey Sports Poll (’10), and Harris Poll (’09) reports on top college basketball brands

Taking these two variables into account, I pulled the following table together, including those programs that could legitimately be a part of the "elite"

School

Championships

Final Fours

Elite Eight

Brand*

Duke

4

11

13

1

UNC

4

11

17

2

Kansas

2

7

?

T6

Kentucky

2

6

14

3

Michigan State

2

7

8

T6

UConn

3

4

9

10

Indiana

2

4

6

5

UCLA

1

4 (vacated 1980 FF)

?

4

Arizona

1

4

8

9

Syracuse

1

3

4

T6

*subjective aggregation of Turnkey Sports Poll and Harris Poll

Plotting this table in graphical form, the truly elite emerge.

Cbbhoopselite_medium

Bottom line, we have the popularity of an elite program, but haven’t done enough when it really counts to have truly earned that status and the automatic reverence that comes with it. We’re a recognized program who has been very, very good, but not great. In a way, we're the Jeff Bridges of college basketball…always solid, sometimes brilliant, but never in the category of Nicholson, Hoffman, Hackman, Washington, and Spacey. And you know what? I’m cool with that. We all should be cool with that. Reverence is earned over time, and here's hoping we'll earn it. In the meantime, we're in the conversation. So the next time we’re feeling down about how some hack on ESPN feels about our team’s status, let’s not look for their or anyone's sympathy. In fact, let’s defer to Mr. Bridges himself:

"F*#k sympathy! I don't need your f*#kin' sympathy, man"

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