The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team closed out its non-conference schedule last Saturday with a blowout win over St. Bonaventure, concluding the first two months of the 2018-19 season with a 9-4 record. Surely, a 9-4 record isn’t what anybody prognosticated for Syracuse heading into the college basketball season — the Orange were expected by many (self-included) to be top-25 good all season.
At this juncture, Syracuse figures to have work to do in the ACC and while making the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of reach, Jim Boeheim has never made the NCAA Tournament while losing four non-conference games. Syracuse will need to make history in Boeheim’s 43rd year as head coach to be dancing in March.
Now I’d contest that you’d have to be an idiot (Boeheim voice) to try to predict what Syracuse would need to do in the ACC with any sort of certainty to make the field of 68 come Selection Sunday. It’d be a fool’s errand to try to surmise some sort of conference record that would carry meaning vis-á-vis Syracuse getting an at-large bid to the big dance without an indication of what other teams will do around the country, how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will value the new NET system in its first year (beyond how we think it will) and to try to dance around the implications of auto-bid stealers in conference play.
Which is exactly why my managing editor John Cassillo has bestowed the task upon me, James Szuba, to come up with some sort of predictive model on Syracuse’s path ahead to make the tournament and by that I mean that John did absolutely nothing to coax me in that direction and truthfully didn’t even say a word to me about it.
Now that that’s settled, let’s take a look at the path ahead.
Syracuse of course has 18 conference games ahead. I’m under the belief that Syracuse has to win somewhere around 10 games to be in consideration for an at-large bid. Of course, that’s painting with a pretty broad brush (we’ll do a deeper dive soon) but with 10 conference wins Syracuse would be standing at 19-12 heading into the ACC Tournament.
Last season, Syracuse was 19-12 heading into the ACC Tournament, which interestingly enough was the same record the Orange had going into the conference tournament in 2015-16. As we know, Syracuse made the NCAA Tournament in both of those years. In 2016-17, Syracuse missed the tournament but headed into the ACC Tournament at 18-13 and firmly on the bubble. Which of course means that Syracuse has been on the bubble in each of the last three seasons.
To paint with a thinner brush, Syracuse was able to be on the bubble in 2016-17 largely because of big wins but the Orange failed to earn a berth because it didn’t have enough quality wins away from home. That, and the Orange had 14 losses of course. The two years in which the Orange were selected for the Tournament, Syracuse had quality wins away from the Dome (Battle 4 Atlantis tournament: 2015-16, Miami and Louisville: 2017-18) and were still given a berth despite a high RPI. Last year, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee went with a quadrant system for team sheets during the selection process.
I’m not going to spell out the quadrant system because I’m lazy and also because if you’re reading this you’re probably already well versed on how it works. But if you’d like more information on that or just a refresher our guy Andy Katz who happens to be not a disloyal idiot has that over at NCAA dot com. <— Click there
All this to say, 19 wins is probably that minimum bar (not necessarily target) Syracuse will have to achieve to be in the bubble discussion in 2019 for what some are already calling another weak bubble year in which I can’t even be sure if that’s true or just a throwaway line at this point, but I digress. To be sure, quality of opponent and where games are played will matter. Currently, Syracuse has just one quadrant one victory which came on the road at Ohio State. The Orange has had one other quadrant one game against Buffalo, which it lost.
Syracuse has gone 0-3 in quadrant two games, losing to UConn and Oregon on a neutral court and Old Dominion at home. The eight other Syracuse victories (aside from Ohio State) have come at home to quadrant three and quadrant four opponents.
Needless to say, Syracuse has work to do but opportunity awaits in the ACC and it starts this weekend. The Orange could possibly pick a quadrant one victory over Notre Dame. Throughout conference play (as of today) Syracuse will have a shot at 11 quadrant one wins, two quadrant two wins and five quadrant three wins. Read that last line twice to make sure I didn’t mess that up.
Syracuse will have plenty of chances to build a résumé in conference play. Don’t go betting the ranch, but if Syracuse wins the seven quadrant two and quadrant three games and picks up three quadrant one wins (on the top of the Ohio State win) that could very well be enough to get the Orange over the hump. Of course, we know that’s not how things usually shake out and Syracuse will likely need a few road victories but just about any variation of 10 wins on this ACC schedule should probably be enough for an at-large berth. A Duke win (No. 1 in the NET) mixed in would be a nice kicker.
One of the exhilarating things about college basketball is that with the automatic bid in play in conference tournaments, teams are never truly out of the race. But aside from playing better, running an offense and obviously winning some games, what do you think the Syracuse has to do to make the NCAA Tournament? Drop a comment or several below.