With college football just about wrapped up, college basketball opinions are finally beginning to creep to the top of the sports news cycle. Non-conference play is over, so as league schedules begin, the media is trying to figure out exactly who’s good and who decidedly isn’t.
One of those media members doing this in public is The Athletic’s Seth Davis, who assigns ratings of buy/sell/hold to a long list of teams. The Syracuse Orange were one of them, and he had this to say:
This stock price is pretty cheap, so if you want to hold onto it for a while, suit yourself. I just don’t see the Orange going anywhere. They are the tallest team in the country, which means they are well-suited to run their zone defense, but they are also younger than all but 18 teams. They struggle to score, they played a pretty soft nonconference schedule and three of their next four games are on the road. I expect Syracuse to ride the bubble for most of February. Even if the Orange squeak into the tournament, they won’t stay long.
Much of this is fair, to be honest. We know SU’s tall and is well-equipped for the zone. We’re also aware that they struggle to score points for long stretches. If they make the NCAAs, I’m not expecting them to stay too long either. But making it would be a success in and of itself.
The one nit to pick, however, is the non-conference scheduling note. Seth claims the Orange’s schedule was soft. But was that really the case?
If you ask TeamRankings.com, SU faced the 62nd-toughest non-conference schedule in the country. That doesn’t sound overly impressive, and it isn’t. But compare that to some other power conference schools and you’ll quickly see it’s better than many. Oregon, Virginia Tech, Iowa State, Boston College, Illinois and a whole lot more had easier non-conference schedules than SU did this year.
KenPom has Syracuse’s non-conference SOS at 140th. Not overly impressive either (and worse than the TeamRankings metric), however it’s still better than the numbers for Wisconsin, Clemson, Indiana, Virginia, TCU and quite a few other power conference schools (and a bunch of those names are also hanging around the top 25 now).
On ESPN, they also separate out non-conference SOS and the Orange rank a resounding 24th overall -- and in the top 10 among power conference schools. Now, the numbers in ESPN’s ratings do run contrary to a lot of what’s in the two previous ratings. But still — can’t be THAT soft if any strength of schedule metric sees you with a strong group of teams on your resume.
And all of this is without just looking at the teams themselves. While UConn’s fading already and Georgetown’s questionable, St. Bonaventure, Kansas and Maryland are all capable foes. And so are Buffalo and Oakland. This year’s collection of non-conference teams aren’t soft by Syracuse standards, and compared to most other (power conference) college hoops programs, it’s a reasonable group of opponents as well.
This isn’t to start claiming faux outrage or getting worked up about a throwaway paragraph in one article. When I saw Seth’s critique, I was curious to see if it held any weight in terms of numbers -- not just brand recognition (the latter of which, we have plenty of on this schedule). The numbers show that “soft” is some poor word choice here.
That doesn’t mean SU’s going to the Final Four or will even win its next game -- but please, let’s do that second one for sure. It’s just to point out that the Orange have been tested already, with some up-and-down results. That’s fine, especially for a young team.
Ultimately, this (or any) remark about soft scheduling won’t matter if Syracuse can win games, though. That’s going to get tougher as ACC play ramps up. But this team stands a good chance of holding a tournament-worthy resume come March. And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how “soft” that non-conference slate really was (or wasn’t).