The Men: It Can Get Better, And Let’s Hope It Does
Even those that have suffered massive head trauma and are bleeding profusely from the skull know that Syracuse hasn’t started 2016-2017 with the fire of 10,000 suns. The Orange’s 8-5 record through its nonconference slate is borderline disastrous, featuring only one victory — home against Monmouth — against an opponent ranked in the top 100 on kenpom.com. This is not a blueprint for how to buttress a predator-swarming ACC schedule.
In fact, looking at the five computer models tracked to assess Syracuse’s position in the national hierarchy, the Orange — based on the profile it has assembled at this stage of the year (with preseason projections receding well into the background) — are staring down what could be a 16-15 record, going just 8-10 in league play (and that includes four dates against Boston College and Georgia Tech):
This is a pretty dour forecast for Syracuse: Ignoring relative strengths of schedule, a 16-15 campaign would mark the fewest wins that Jim Boeheim has registered since a 16-13 effort in 1981-1982 (a 16-15 record would be Boeheim’s worst win percentage in his tenure as head coach). None of this is engraved in stone — there is still time to polish this thing and realize the potential that’s embedded in the roster — but if the Orange stay on the path that it’s on, there’s a real possibility that Syracuse suffers its worst season in 35 years.
The losses to Connecticut, Georgetown, and St. John’s are especially detrimental, as if that needs unique highlighting. Simulating those games over and over again generally gives Syracuse more wins than losses, but the reality that we’re dealing with -- the one where the Orange got pantsed twice and almost ruined basketball with the Huskies at Madison Square Garden — puts gigantic red “L’s” on Syracuse’s permanent record. When compounded by the fact that the Orange has nine games (half of its remaining schedule) — Miami, Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, and Duke at home; North Carolina and Notre Dame away -- against top 30 competition in which Syracuse is projected to be, on average, a seven-point underdog with an average win probability of 29%, extra pressure is created to salvage the season not by taking care of business against inferior or peer teams (which is an absolute necessity to avoid drowning), but rather to play above the team’s ceiling and drill a couple of favorites. (It does help, possibly significantly, that many of these apex hunters are forced to come into the Dome and compete in non-preferable circumstances.) Weird stuff happens, and Syracuse -- along with actually finding its core ability and developing as a competent and consistent basketball threat — needs weird stuff to accrue in its favor a few times down the stretch to offset some major “OH GOD WHY?!” instances already on its balance sheet.
Here’s why: Using the blended projections, a Monte Carlo simulation — results simulated 10,000 times — an ugly curve emerges relative to potential Syracuse win totals:
There’s about a 40% chance that Syracuse, based on its current volition, is going to finish with 16 or 17 wins and is more likely than not to stick within 15 and 18 victories. That, based on how the NCAA selection committee operates and the noise that outside influencers are known to make, probably isn’t going to be enough to create a March adventure unless things start to change on the court (and it can!). Improve, and get some luck, and this path changes; remain static, and one of the worst seasons — if not the worst season — in Boeheim’s career will take its final form.
The Ladies: In Good, But Not Great, Shape
Q has Syracuse stalking the better teams in the country, but the Orange aren’t quite in the upper echelon of the nation this year. That’s okay; considering where this program was before Hillsman started drilling fools directly in the face in 2007, Syracuse is in a decent position with its ACC games in its windshield. Basketball computing machines -- again, based on its current profile with preseason projections moving well into the background -- are projecting 19 regular season victories for the fun-as-all-hell ladies, a wins mark that the Orange have achieved or surpassed all of a dozen times in the last 45 years. This is the golden era of Syracuse basketball for the ladies, and while 2016-2017 may trail what Q has almost impossibly done in the last seven years, it still has the flavor of something worth paying attention to and supporting.
Q would probably like another crack at the four teams that delivered losses to Syracuse this year — the Drexel defeat is especially heartbreaking — but the Orange are still in a good spot to challenge its good-to-very good competition the rest of the way. (It does kind of suck, though, that the majority of Syracuse hardest conference games — Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Duke — are all on the road while the Orange will only get a chance to trample top 35 teams Miami and Notre Dame -- and the Irish are a national title contender again this season — in the Dome. Them’s the breaks, I guess.)
It’s hard to get overly worked up about that curve. With a win or two in the ACC Tournament, Syracuse will, more likely than not, have a resume that slots the Orange somewhere in the 8-seed range for the national bracket. Right now there isn’t cause for concern -- I’d actually argue this is cause for getting excited about the ladies! -- and if Q does nothing more than maintain, the Orange will have registered yet another notable year.