The Syracuse Orange are in uncharted waters for the program, participating in the “First Four” for the first time.
When the NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams back in 2011, it brought three new “play-in games” in addition to the one it already had in place for the final two 16-seeds. One of those new games was between 16-seeds as well. The other two are contested between the four lowest-ranked at-large teams in the field.
Of late, those have been 11-seeds. Since 2015 and including this year, every at-large team in the First Four has been an 11. Before that, it happened just three times (2014, 2013, 2011) out of a possible eight. No at-large First Four team has ever had a better seen than the 11 line, but they’ve dipped as low as the 14 -- when Iona and BYU faced off in 2012.
Notably, a First Four team has won at least two games (including the opening round) in every tournament since the 2011 expansion. Those teams:
2011: VCU Rams, lost to Butler in Final Four
2012: USF Bulls, lost to Ohio in second round
2013: La Salle Explorers, lost to Wichita State in Sweet 16
2014: Tennessee Volunteers, lost to Michigan in Sweet 16
2015: Dayton Flyers, lost to Oklahoma in second round
2016: Wichita State Shockers, lost to Miami (FL) in second round
2017: USC Trojans, lost to Baylor in second round
That’s seven straight years of one (and only one) First Four team advancing at least one round. Though for the past three seasons, that’s as far as they’ve gotten — coincidentally, the same year they started defaulting to 11-seeds. In three of the initial four seasons of this setup, the teams advanced to at least the Sweet 16. VCU, as everyone’s pretty much aware, is the only team to go from the First Four to the Final Four.
It would seem likely that history repeats itself once again, no matter who wins this year’s First Four matchups. St. Bonaventure will face what looks like a beatable Florida team in round one. If Syracuse beats the Arizona State Sun Devils, they’ll earn a favorable matchup with TCU to open the round of 64 (ASU would also be in a comfortable spot against the Frogs as well).
History isn’t meant to repeat itself forever with regard to these First Four teams advancing past round one, but until proven otherwise, we’ll assume one goes through. Syracuse has a knack for the unprecedented in the NCAAs (first No. 2 to lose in round one, first 10-seed to make Final Four), so it’s not out of the question for us to be part of the first season without a First Four team getting to the weekend games.
There’s also another way to look at it, though. What if the Orange are the first team to play their way from the First Four to the national title game? Sure it’s HIGHLY improbable, especially given Syracuse’s short bench and the need to play three games in five days this week alone. But until we see the buzzer run out on this season, are you honestly going to count out Jim Boeheim’s group?
Fingers crossed our latest “first” gets started tonight.