It's a gigantic basketball weekend for Syracuse: With both the men's and women's teams in action in the Sweet Sixteen, the Orange have the opportunity to shatter faces and place both of its basketball concerns in a regional final. This is the stuff of crazy brain worms going bonkers and infecting whatever is in their immediate vicinity:
- Syracuse's women's program has never sniffed the Elite Eight in its history. In fact, this is the first year that the Orange have advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
- While Syracuse's men's team was easily among the top 30 at-large candidates for the NCAA Tournament field according to a host of basketball computers (including Pomeroy, BPI, Sagarin, and LRMC), the way the Midwest Region has broken open is pretty insane given the fact that five of the Midwest Region's best eight teams (determined through a composite computer ranking prior to the start of the tournament) spit the bit before the onset of the regional round. (Please forward your apologies as necessary.)
Here is a basketball computer table thing:
Click the image to embiggen.
The ladies are a riot to watch -- they play fast, everyone wears Rambo headbands, and Coach Q looks the part of a 1960's pool hall hustler. They are the epitome of fun and good times hoopin', yet the ladies are weighted down with an exceptionally difficult Sweet Sixteen matchup against South Carolina in Sioux Falls, Russia (location estimated). None of the basketball computers love Syracuse in this spot, giving the Orange about 4:1 odds to beat Dawn Staley's team. That's not disastrously awful, but it's also less than glowing given the nine-point expected spread.
But if -- if! -- Syracuse can shimmy past South Carolina, things drastically change in the regional final: The Orange are either in a toss-up or favored position against Ohio State or Tennessee. That's not only an incredible opportunity, but further validation of the job that Coach Q has done for a program that was moribund before he took the reins. Everyone is antsy about what the men's team may do against Gonzaga and what that portends for a Final Four run, but the ladies have a highly anxious approach to Indianapolis with its probability for reaching mind-bending heights hinging on toppling the team that eliminated them from the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The Gonzaga-Syracuse line is hovering around 4.5 in favor of the 'Zags, but basketball computers are more inclined to install the Bulldogs as a three-point favorite. That's not an earth-moving difference, but it does highlight the relative quality that basketball computers see between the two teams. Basically, this isn't an impossible task for Syracuse in Chicago (especially considering how well the Orange have played in their last two games, shattering the team's margin expectations against Dayton and Middle Tennessee), but the Orange are still illustrated as a 'dog despite the seeding difference between each side.
The complication here is that while of the bulk of the region is Top 20 quality, Syracuse lags and is in an adverse position. Getting past Gonzaga will require the Orange to continue its torrid output, and even if Syracuse lays waste to the 'Zags, one of two less-than-stellar opponents await in the regional final: Virginia, one of the three or four best teams in the country, is expected to have around a seven-point advantage over Syracuse and Iowa State, while essentially creating a toss-up game with the Orange, is not exactly a gimmie. Cassillo is in the right lecture hall when he writes that Iowa State is the most preferable opponent of the three other teams headed to Chicago, but none of these teams are glass jaws.
Aside: I'm not really sure why the 538 model is deviating so much from the other basketball computers considered in this piece. I think a part of it has to do with how 538 is building in travel, the Selection Committee's S-curve, and the Przemek Karnowksi injury, but that still doesn't align with the inputs that its taking from its ELO metric and various other ratings systems. Not to throw shade at Nate Silver because he beats me in brains, but the 538 approach here significantly deviates from other reputable methods. Just keep that in mind.