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Bubble Watch: Syracuse basketball improves vs. the field

The slide ends, and just in time.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With last night’s latest upset win over a top-10 team, the Syracuse Orange certainly helped their own NCAA Tournament profile. But that’s also not the only factor in whether or not SU gets in. There’s a sizeable list of teams also vying for the last few at-large bids too, and their own resumes can ebb and flow as well.

Utilizing Bracket Matrix, we can get a good read on who those teams are, and how we compare to them right now. We’ll try to update this after each of SU’s last couple games (and then the ACC Tournament).

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Baylor Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Above Syracuse

Kansas State Wildcats (17-11, 6-9)

KSU can’t do any better than 9-9 in the difficult Big 12, which could be enough if the committee puts a premium on conference cachet. Still, the Wildcats have lost seven of their last nine, and fell by double digits at home to Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Their current claim to fame is wins over Baylor and West Virginia, though, which rival or surpass the Orange’s best wins. They also don’t really have the bad losses SU does.

California Golden Bears (18-9, 9-6)

Cal could’ve punched their own ticket last night with a home win over Oregon, but instead, Dillon Brooks sent them packing at the buzzer. The Golden Bears are another team on the bubble without a bad loss, but have now lost three straight and their most recent “good” win was probably early January vs. USC. They’ve yet to really pick up that signature victory, but still, maybe Cal can get right back int this.

Marquette Golden Eagles (17-10, 8-7)

Like Syracuse, Marquette has also lost to St. John’s, but unlike SU, the Golden Eagles also have a double-digit win over the Red Storm to balance that out. Marquette’s resume largely hinges on two things: an upset over Villanova and another (lesser) one over Creighton. Beyond that, it’s a lot of mid-Big East fluff victories and a couple defensible losses to Michigan and Pitt.

Seton Hall Pirates (17-10, 7-8)

Seton Hall’s split with Marquette, and their best wins are vs. Creighton and Xavier — neither of which look as strong as they once might have. Like MU and SU, the Pirates also have a loss to St. John’s on the resume (by the way, the Red Storm aren’t THAT bad). SHU may need another big win to feel secure. A sub-.500 Big East record wouldn’t do them any favors.

TCU Horned Frogs (17-11, 6-9)

TCU got smoked by Kansas last night, and that means four straight losses now for the tumbling Frogs. Unlike every other team on this top part of the list, TCU does not really have a signature win to hang its hat on. Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas Tech are as close as they get. The Orange hurdling Jamie Dixon’s team to get into the NCAAs would be enjoyable.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois State at Texas Christian Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Below Syracuse

Illinois State Redbirds (24-5, 16-1)

ISU has the quantity of wins needed to make it, even if they fail to possess the quality ones the committee would probably prioritize. The problem for the Redbirds is that they can’t really get them between now and Selection Sunday. They have a loss to fellow bubble team TCU, and a nice win over Wichita State. But they’ve also lost to WSU by 41. They’ll be sweating it out without winning the Missouri Valley.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-12, 7-8)

Tech collapsed vs. NC State this week, though they’re still very much in the hunt. The Wreck have some great wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, and also possess one against Syracuse — though the Orange can even the score there in the season finale. Early losses to Ohio, Penn State, Georgia and Tennessee COULD hurt, but not as much as the Orange’s non-conference woes.

Tennessee Volunteers (15-13, 7-8)

The Vols have dropped four of six, and last night’s loss to Vanderbilt only makes matters worse. Tennessee has one truly “great” win on the resume vs. Kentucky, and then a lot of mid-to-low SEC successes. They have a lot of losses as well, and a bunch are quality ones (Gonzaga, UNC, Wisconsin, Florida, UK). The SEC’s struggles aren’t lost on the committee, however.

Clemson Tigers (14-13, 4-11)

Best wins of the season are vs. South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. They have a lot of close losses to great teams, and a schedule that explains why they’re 14-13 overall. But SU has beaten the Tigers (on the road, too), and those quality wins they possess aren’t going to move the needle when so many other teams on the bubble have better ones.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (16-12, 7-9)

Another team swimming in quality losses, but with only a handful of quality wins to lean on. Wake’s beaten Georgia Tech and Miami, and that’s really where the resume stops. They’ve also lost to Syracuse, Clemson twice and a bunch of even better teams than those. Like Clemson, strength of schedule helps the Deacs, but not enough to overcome lack of noteworthy wins.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty more teams in the hunt for bids — Providence, Rhode Island, Houston, Vanderbilt would be next in line — but wanted to limit this article from being a 2,000-word explainer.

Being on the bubble this time of year isn’t a reassuring situation for any of these programs, Syracuse included. Even with quality wins and projections that you’re “in,” conference tournament chaos and bid stealers can upset all of that in a hurry.

If SU can beat Georgia Tech or Louisville, however, that may be enough against this field of competition, AND whatever else happens during conference tournaments this March.