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Basketball computers project tight windows for Syracuse men’s, women’s basketball

The Orange are in their final push on both the men’s and women’s sides of the basketball house. What are basketball computers projecting for both?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 08 ACC Tournament - Syracuse v Miami Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Expected Regular Season Record: 21-8

Expected ACC Regular Season Record: 9-7

Coach Q — he of the imperial memes — lost a lot going into the 2017-2018 season but had at his disposal some intriguing assets. While Syracuse has continued to operate as the most exciting team on campus — seriously: you need to watch the ladies; they play an absolutely face-melting brand of ball that is infectiously fun — the Orange are still finding their level. This isn’t a team in transition at this stage of the season — Tiana Mangakahia has been one of the most explosive guards in the country and the Orange are coalescing around her, Gabby Cooper, and Miranda Drummond — but it is one that is discovering its potential.

Finishing its final nine games with a 6-3 record isn’t the stuff of dominating annihilation, but it is the kind of closing effort that would all but assure Syracuse of a place in the NCAA Tournament, preferably one far, far away from the Connecticut death machine. 21 regular season wins and nine league victories would all but assure the Orange of a place in the big field, especially if Syracuse earns a favorable draw in the ACC Tournament to help pad its resume. Even if the Orange merely hold the line the rest of the way (finishing the year right around the top 35 nationally), the computer model simulations like Syracuse’s trajectory:

There is very little that is frightening about Syracuse’s final nine games: Only three dates (home to Virginia Tech, home to Louisville, and home to Duke) register as a toss-up or worse while the other six games all maintain an expected win probability, on a blended basis, of more than 64 percent. If Coach Q can take care of business and have his underclassmen develop — there’s a strong belief that this is actually happening as the Orange have outperformed their expected margins in four of its last five games (the underperformance was against Miami, and that game was an uneven mess and likely an outlier at this stage of the year) — Syracuse could, potentially, play its best basketball at the end of the year and threaten for a nice progression in the NCAA Tournament.

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Expected Regular Season Record: 19-12

Expected ACC Regular Season Record: 8-10

Thinking about Syracuse from the perspective of relative strength, the Orange aren’t in an perilously awful position nationally: Basketball computing machines drop Syracuse around 50th nationally, which places the Orange at the tail-end of the at-large pool when considering an S-curve based wholly on expected power. This is not a particularly good position in which to reside (and one to which creates angst among Orange fans), but it does present an important realization: Syracuse isn’t all that far from pushing its way into a somewhat comfortable position, nationally, if it can find opportunities within its most pressing issues.

That’s the thing to keep in mind here as the Orange presses forward in its final dozen games: Can Syracuse find enough answers to its offensive woes/defensive rebounding issues/etc. to elevate its relative strength to a top 30-35 position? (The comparison, for Syracuse, isn’t to the top of the country; the Orange just aren’t that kind of team in 2017-2018. The real focus and comparison is to teams sitting somewhere from the top 25 to the top 50 — can the Orange improve its standing among that group of teams and then let the chips fall where they may.) If so, the Orange’s resume will likely reflect it as holding sufficient quality for at-large inclusion, even if it is unknown how the NCAA Tournament committee will react to a first-year environment of newly-engineered team sheets and considerations. It’s a different kind of goal — not to try and accelerate toward the top 20, because that’s not an entirely reasonable expectation this season — but it’s one that’s attainable given the team’s short competition break and the amount of time remaining in the year to improve in important ways.

Changing those simulations, of course, is dependent upon Syracuse altering its relative position of strength. Ideally, the bell curve would move up a game or two in the win column, but as of now there’s a consensus that 19-12 (8-10) is the most likely mark. Seeing that change (if any), though, is going to take a degree of sophistication given how the Orange’s final 12 games organize themselves: Based on the computer models, Syracuse has likely wins and likely losses stacked up against each other, with two toss-up games standing at the end of the year. If the character of those games change (not just the actual outcomes, which may be influenced by a degree of luck), it’s the evidence you’re looking for to support any perceived growth from the team. Simply freaking out about back-to-back losses or assuming material improvement based on back-to-back wins isn’t going to give the entire story on what Syracuse’s ceiling may be as the apex of the regular season approaches — there’s the potential for false truth (if that makes any sense) based upon the order in which the Orange is receiving its opponents.

The key, then, is to keep a sharp eye on the Orange’s margins over its next four games — if Syracuse can register double-digit victories against Boston College and Pittsburgh, capture a somewhat convincing win against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and make Virginia sweat in the Dome, there’s probably enough there to think that the Orange can make itself a legitimate NCAA Tournament participant after spending more than a week working on its stuff. If the Orange merely sputter along in its next four games, it puts an incredible amount of pressure on Syracuse to try and turn an expected 3-5 record in its final eight games into something more palatable.