As of this morning, Syracuse is still projected by several bracket analysts to make this year's Big Dance. After last night's loss to North Carolina and with one game left on the schedule (plus the upcoming ACC Tournament next week), uncertainty is still a part of the Orange's resume.
One factor that always comes up during broadcasts of potential tournament-bound teams' games are "good wins" versus "bad losses." After scouring through Syracuse's entire schedule, RPI rankings, BPI rankings, and KenPom's rankings*, the following are the three worst losses for the Orange, thus far.
December 5, 2015: Georgetown 79, Syracuse 72
For the first time in two years, the former Big East foes were set to renew their rivalry (for the 90th time). It would also be the first game of Jim Boeheim's nine-game suspension, to add extra fuel to the fire. Georgetown held a 36-24 advantage heading into halftime, and scored eight-straight to begin the second. Syracuse finally started to chip away at the Hoyas' lead, but it was too little too late. Michael Gbinije led all scorers, with 23 points, plus five rebounds and five assists. Tyler Roberson, who was definitely not in Boeheim's doghouse at the time, had 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Dajuan Coleman scored a season high, at the time, 10 points, while Trevor Cooney scored 11. Tale of the tape: Georgetown shot 48.1% from the field and the Orange only 38.1%.
Why was this a bad loss? The current RPI ranking for the Hoyas is 102, 50 spots below Syracuse. Georgetown's current BPI ranking is 67, while the Orange stands at 40. Ken Pomeroy ranks the Hoyas No. 76, according to his formula. Meanwhile, Syracuse ranks 41. RPI is what factors the most into the NCAA Tournament's seeding process, so the fact that Georgetown is not even in the Top-100 is pretty bad.
December 13, 2015: St. John's 84, Syracuse 72
Two games later, Syracuse met St. John's in another clash of former Big East rivals at the Orange's home-away-from-home: Madison Square Garden. Things seemed to be going well at first, as the teams traded leads during the first 10 minutes of the game. Then, the Red Storm went on an 11-1 run to take a 22-15 advantage with 7:43 to go in the half. Syracuse answered with a run of their own to take back the lead with a little over five minutes left. The Johnnies claimed the lead again with a 13-2 run, securing a nine-point halftime lead. In the second half, the Orange cut St. John's lead down to seven twice within the final nine minutes of play. Unfortunately, just when it seemed like momentum was turning in their favor, Syracuse was unable to convert two steals, and thus the Red Storm prevailed. Gbinije led the team with 21 points and three steals. Richardson scored 15 points and had four steals. Cooney ended up with 11 points and three steals on the day.
With every game that St. John's has lost in the weeks since, this loss has looked worse and worse. The Red Storm's current RPI is 224. Yes, you read that right, it's in the 200s. They're BPI is also in the 200s, at 214. Ouch and ouch. The killer is KenPom, where they are at 235. Triple ouch. I'd most certainly rate this one as the worst of the worst this season.
January 5, 2016: Clemson 74, Syracuse 73 in Overtime
After opening up ACC play at Pittsburgh and Miami, Syracuse was geared to come back to the comforts of the Carrier Dome, looking for their first conference win of the season. It would also be the final game of the brief Mike Hopkins preview era. The contest got off to a good start, as the Orange took a 5-0 lead two minutes in. It was unfortunately short-lived, as Clemson would take the lead, 13-12, and go on an 8-0 run after a Gbinije trey. The Tigers took an eight-point lead into the half, 33-25. Clemson led for a majority of the second half before Syracuse finally found its momentum. The Orange would go on a 7-0 run after bringing the score to within five points and led by as many as four the rest of the way. The Tigers would not go away, though, as guard Gabe DeVoe send the game into overtime. The extra period was back-and-forth, but in the end Clemson would be victorious, as Cooney's three-point shot missed while time expired.
Although this loss may not have looked so bad, as it's the only one on this list involving a team with a winning record, but it's still pretty bad. First of all, the Tigers' RPI ranking is 113, their BPI is 51, and their KenPom is 49. As I mentioned before, RPI is the most desirable stat when it comes time to decide who makes the tournament, so that below-100 ranking isn't so appealing. Second, we would be sitting at 20 wins, 10 of them in conference, ahead of both Duke and Notre Dame because we beat both of those teams. Tournament seeding is huge for us this year, and we could be vying for the coveted fourth-seed with Louisville self-disqualified from competing. After writing this, I now think that this loss is worse than the one to St. John's.
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There's no doubt that these losses are all pretty bad. Georgetown and St. John's are bad because they hurt our RPI, but Clemson is worse because of the implications for conference tournament seeding (potentially pushing us down to eighth, instead of sixth). The more rest for this team, the better. And right now, we are on the cusp of earning a single-bye. Instead, we could be staring at a double-bye and a stronger security blanket of making the NCAA Tournament. All of the other teams that Syracuse has lost to are projected to make the Dance.
Now, we want to know what you, the commentariat, think. Which loss is the worst, in your opinion?
*RPI, or Ratings Percentage Index, combines the team's winning percentage and strength of schedule as a way to help level the playing field. The Basketball Power Index, BPI, accounts for the final score, pace of play, site, strength of schedule, and absence of key players in every Division 1 men's game. KenPom looks at who a team beat or lost to and how that team did so. For example, it would rate a 20-point victory higher than a five-point victory and teams with close losses to highly ranked teams over teams with close victories over lower teams.