Syracuse Orange men’s basketball is nearly upon us — the latest sign coming in the form of a fresh batch of AP rankings.
Jim Boeheim’s squad comes in at No. 16 to start the year, which fans should be pretty happy about. It’s the Orange’s first appearance in the poll since the AP voted them 22nd on November 28, 2016.
SU’s schedule is littered with other teams in the polls, too. Among the other ranked teams they’ll face this year:
- No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (twice)
- No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers
- No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels
- (maybe) No. 14 Oregon Ducks
- No. 15 Virginia Tech Hokies
- No. 17 Florida State Seminoles
- No. 22 Clemson Tigers (twice)
Additionally, other Orange opponents Notre Dame, Buffalo, Miami (FL) and NC State also received votes.
According to the Poll Tracker, just three voters included Syracuse in the top 10. The highest spot was the New Haven Register’s Dave Borges at No. 9, while Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News) and Dave Preston (WTOP) had Syracuse in 10th. Syracuse.com’s Donna Ditota had the Orange 12th on her own ballot, so: #contracthonored.
Elsewhere, Ken Pomeroy is pretty good at this. That’s the conclusion I reached after he ranked the Syracuse Orange 68th in his analytic leaderboards to begin last season. When cuts arrived on Selection Sunday, Syracuse narrowly clinched one of the last four spots in the NCAA Tournament — the 68th and final one.
This time around, Syracuse is all the way up at No. 8. Just Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Villanova, Nevada and Kentucky stand above them, positioning Syracuse as the favorite for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It’s a whole new world this season.
The transformation starts and finishes with the offense. Following the regular season, the Orange’s offense lagged behind the March Madness field with an adjusted offensive rating of 107.0. That ranked 135th in D1. Syracuse had to compensate by playing impeccable defense and did, finishing the year at 92.2 adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions — fifth in the NCAA.
Syracuse 345th-ranked KenPom pace rating — due to depth and an offense Boeheim sporadically said cannot score — would’ve left the Orange chasing the College of Charlestown (323rd) up and down the floor.
Since their pace still projects to land in the 300s, SU’s efficiency will need to increase to achieve their predicted 4.7 point scoring increase per 100 possessions. That’ll depend on an influx of bench scoring and improvements from returning offensive leaders. Their predicted 111.7 adjusted offensive rating places the Orange at 17th in the NCAA, up from 135th.
As for the defense, which Boeheim said should be at least as good as last year given the returning personnel, Pomeroy projects a whopping 88.4 defensive rating. That’s good for third in the NCAA behind Kansas and Virginia — and their eighth-ranked +23.33 net rating is up from +14.82 (41st) at the conclusion of 17-18.
The 13 non-conference opponents they’ll play beginning on Nov. 7 against Eastern Washington feature an average ranking of 130.3 in preseason KenPom with an average efficiency margin of +4.29.
To compare, Syracuse’s non-conference opponents last year held an average rank of 133.38. The +4.54 average efficiency margin of their opponents was only 0.25 points higher. Under the now-defunct RPI rating, SU scheduled the 17th strongest lineup of opponents.
There’s massive potential of change in how an opponent is viewed between the start and end of a season though. Connecticut fell from 69 to 179, flipping with Buffalo which went from 151 to 67 in KenPom through the course of 2017-18.
As for the ACC. It somehow gets harder. In a banner year for the conference where nine schools reached March Madness, Syracuse’s opponents averaged a 63.89 Kenpom ranking and +14.32 AEM. In 2018-19, those numbers may elevate as Syracuse’s schedule averages a 47.11 KenPom ranking and +15.32 AEM — thanks in large part to two Duke games.
Given their projected strides and the continuously difficult array of opponents, a bet on Syracuse playing in the NCAAs this year feels safe if not profitable.