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How did Syracuse basketball make the NCAA Tournament?

The question many observers have, albeit for different reasons than ours.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

How did the Syracuse Orange make the 2018 NCAA Tournament?

It’s a question many of us had, and many more detractors keep asking, angrily. What happened for Syracuse to manage being the last at-large team selected?

Quite a bit, really. Some of it was in the Orange’s hands. Plenty more wasn’t. But in case you’re still curious, here’s a rundown of everything that got Jim Boeheim and his program to the Big Dance once again:

1. Strength of schedule

Playing in the ACC helps, but as Oklahoma State learned, you can’t just be in a strong conference and expect a bid. Syracuse’s SOS was 15th in the country, while OK State’s was 69th (nice). The Orange scheduled Kansas, Buffalo, Iona, Maryland, St. Bonaventure and Toledo, which were all helpful to varying degrees in boosting that number beyond just what the ACC had to offer. SU’s non-conference SOS was 13th. The committee saw them as battled-tested.

2. Getting it done away from the Dome

As mentioned back in January, Syracuse has struggled a bit on the road in recent years. However, they did put some of those ghosts to bed in 2017-18. The Orange were 6-8 away fro the Carrier Dome, including 4-6 in true road games with victories over both Miami and Louisville. The committee may have hinted this was the most important bubble metric and that makes sense for some bubble foes given the result. Baylor was 4-10 away from home, and had just two true road wins. Oklahoma State’s away record was similarly lackluster. However, USC and Notre Dame actually performed better than the Orange away from home.

NCAA Basketball: Iona at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

3. Beating Iona and Texas Southern

This seems silly, but one of the bubble metrics was teams’ records against others in the field. Syracuse was 6-9 against the field, including wins that may not look amazing, but could’ve actually helped them, against Iona and Texas Southern. Each team took home a conference title, giving the Orange a little extra boost from what would’ve been a much less impressive 4-9 by this measure.

4. Buffalo winning the MAC

After all of that quadrant talk, it didn’t come up as much as expected on Selection Sunday. However, one place it might have helped Syracuse is with regard to the Bulls. SU beat Buffalo in December, and it ended up being one of the Orange’s best victories on the resume. The Bulls finished in the top 30 of the RPI, making it a Quadrant 1 win -- giving SU four such wins on the year (plus at Miami, Clemson and at Louisville). Thanks, UB!

5. Arizona beating USC

We’d talked about the Trojans extensively during last week’s bubble conversations, and while SC had gaudy computer numbers, the quality wins just weren’t there (just two in the top-50). Beating Arizona would’ve given them a bid-steal situation to knock the Orange out. Thankfully, the Wildcats won by 14 in the Pac-12 championship on Saturday.

6. Virginia scoring four points in 0.9 seconds

The Hoos were about to lose to Louisville in early March, giving the Cardinals the signature win they lacked for an NCAA Tournament bid. Then a bunch of insane things happened, and Virginia ended up coming out victorious. It was interesting at the time, but ultimately helped decide SU’s postseason fate. Had UL gotten the victory, it’s very likely that would’ve been enough to leapfrog the Orange since all other parts of the resume conversation leaned toward Louisville.

7. Rick Pitino getting fired

Also Louisville-related. Without Rick Pitino on the sidelines this year, Louisville was not necessarily themselves against top opponents — at home or on the road. That went for the Syracuse game as well, when interim coach David Padgett had his Cardinals trying to battle back late by jacking up a ton of threes (after closing a lead by attacking Syracuse inside). It didn’t work, obviously, as Syracuse won 78-73. It’s unlikely Pitino would’ve made the same decision. Always take Boeheim against a first-year head coach.


Plenty more reasons to point to around Syracuse’s trip to the NCAAs. But these are the most obvious ones around their resume. Have others you’d like to highlight? Share below.