After the final weekend of regular season play, college basketball continues sorting itself out with regard to the NCAA Tournament bubble.
As you know, the Syracuse Orange are on a long list of teams vying for the final few spots in the field, and a whole lot of "experts" are torn about whether or not they should be included as of today. Recent results haven't helped SU there, as many of their bubble foes are picking up big wins. The Orange won the most recent game they needed -- vs. Georgia Tech on Saturday -- but the work is far from over.
Glancing over BracketMatrix's tournament picture (as of this writing last night), we take a look at where Syracuse stands in relation to the nearby bubble teams. For reference, the site lists Syracuse among the last four teams in, as an 11-seed. That would send them to Dayton for the First Four, if it holds.
A glance at the teams above and below the Orange right now:
Seton Hall Pirates (20-10, 10-8)
Seton Hall ended the regular season with four straight wins over Big East opponents, including fellow bubble team Xavier and likely top-four seed Butler. That second one is key because it hands the Pirates their most important win to date. SHU also owns victories over South Carolina, Marquette and Creighton, which all help. But beating Butler and finishing above .500 in league play only stand to assist this team as they look hot heading into the Big East Tournament. They'll face Marquette (for the third time) next.
Providence Friars (20-11, 10-8)
Providence is riding an even better streak than Seton Hall right now, with six straight wins to cap off league play. Those include Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette, which along with a win over bubble team Rhode Island, should prove helpful come decision time. Still, just two of the teams there are 100-percent "in." Providence could potentially leap over another team or two if they beat Creighton again to start the Big East Tournament.
Xavier Musketeers (19-12, 9-9)
Xavier's recent win over DePaul is all that stopped the bleeding from a six-game losing streak. The Musketeers simply haven't been the same team since Edmond Sumner was injured, and the committee should be in the business of penalizing them for that. Xavier's lone impressive win was over Creighton with Sumner. While many are still holding onto this club as a tournament squad, it's hard to see how. They'll likely need a couple Big East Tournament wins (they open vs. DePaul).
USC Trojans (23-8, 10-8)
USC wrapped up their season with two easy wins over the Washington teams, but that doesn't completely erase the four-game losing streak to quality teams before that. The Trojans have two very nice wins -- UCLA and SMU -- which match up well with the best of the bubble. Finishing above .500 in Pac-12 play, and winning 23 games are likely to put them over the top. If not, perhaps a win in a Washington rematch this week will.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (18-12, 9-9)
Wake's won three straight, including a huge win over Louisville last week. That all bodes very well for them, as does an early matchup with Boston College (and the ability to avoid the top half of the ACC Tournament bracket). Still, the Deacs did lose to Syracuse, own two notable wins (Miami, Louisville), and their non-conference pelts are not much to brag about. If it comes down to the Orange and Wake Forest, it will get interesting. But should it?
Vanderbilt Commodores (17-14, 10-8)
If Syracuse's lack of real non-conference quality is what hurts them, then there can't be much of a defense for Vandy, right? The 'Dores did less than nothing in non-conference play while finishing 7-6. Still, their accomplishments in the SEC are significant: a season sweep over Florida, wins over South Carolina and Arkansas. Vanderbilt's numbers may not look better than the Orange's to the naked eye, yet perhaps some on the committee make the case. You should be rooting for them to lose to Texas A&M this week.
Illinois State Redbirds (27-6, 17-1)
Illinois State was walloped by Wichita State each of the last two times the teams faced one another -- including Sunday's Missouri Valley championship game. The Redbirds are a fun team, but their lone quality win (vs. Wichita) is negated by those two blowout losses. There really isn't anything else on this resume, despite the high win total. It would be very surprising to see them surpass SU or a lot of these power conference teams on the bubble.
Rhode Island Rams (21-9, 13-5)
Rhody closed the year with five straight wins, storming back into the bubble conversation after being potentially left for dead some weeks ago. Yet despite the third-place finish in the Atlantic 10, it's tough to get too worked up over this resume. Two big wins over VCU and Cincinnati. But beyond that, they've knocked around the middle of the A-10. They're in a great league, don't get me wrong. But the power conference teams ahead of them just possess more impressive collections of victories. They'll need to win at least a couple conference tourney games.
Illinois Fighting Illini (18-13, 8-10)
After winning four straight to play their way onto the bubble, the Illini may have been knocked right off of it over the weekend, after Rutgers ended them with a late three. Losing 13 games in a down year for the Big 10 isn't great, and neither is going sub-.500 in league play. If Illinois beats Michigan to start the Big Ten Tournament, then they're back in the conversation. But without it, there's no way.
Kansas State Wildcats (19-12, 8-10)
K-State took on a whole lot of water at the back-end of the Big 12 schedule, but two straight wins against TCU and Texas Tech at least keep them alive for now. As mentioned previously, their wins over West Virginia and Baylor are some trump cards no one else really holds (even SU). But the Wildcats' poor play of late may sink them. They'll get a shot to punch their ticket in the Big 12 Tournament, however, if they can beat the Bears for a second time.
The problem with a power conference-heavy bubble is that every team has a chance to play their way in by way of the big wins potentially still sitting in front of them. So for Syracuse, while Miami's a better opponent in the second round of the ACC Tournament, the matchup with North Carolina afterward (should it come to fruition) is less ideal.
Still, when you look at the teams below the Orange above, and even some of those above, their current status does seem...okay, if not still tenuous. Of the 10 teams here, you probably mark Seton Hall, Providence and USC in, plus maybe Vanderbilt. Wake Forest, Syracuse and Kansas State are in similar boats. Xavier's sinking fast. California, Iowa, Georgia and others could also get right back in this with tournament runs.
For now, SU just has to control what it can. Beat Miami, and then see what you can give UNC, even in a loss. Hoping for losses elsewhere on the bubble's fine. But it won't matter a bit if the Orange can't handle their own business on Wednesday.