Given the number of bubble seasons the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has endured of late, it’s natural that fans (who are experienced in this situation) would want to compare this year to previous ones.
Every year since 2016, Syracuse has at least looked like they were on or around the bubble. Sometimes that’s turned out well — 2016, 2018, 2019. Others, like 2017 and what likely would’ve been a missed tournament last year, not so much.
While previous seasons won’t tell us exactly what we need to know about Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament chances in 2021, we can at least get a decent gauge of where this year’s Orange squad stands — and what else they may need to happen in order to make the field.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a firm believer that Syracuse needs two wins in the ACC Tournament to be sure they’re heading to the NCAA Tournament. Just one will put things up for grabs in a way that will have us very much sweating things ‘til Sunday. So all of this is written with at least some of that color in mind.
2016: 19-13, 10-seed in NCAA Tournament
I’ve mentioned this in the comments, but there are SO many caveats here. Syracuse went 4-5 in games where Mike Hopkins coached in place of Jim Boeheim, who was serving a suspension. Those didn’t really count against SU. The Orange also had three neutral site wins and a road victory over Duke. There’s no NET to compare to, but SU’s RPI was the worst-ever for an at-large team. Obviously we went to the Final Four. But that has nothing to do with this conversation.
2017: 18-14, missed NCAA Tournament
- RPI: 84
- Road record: 2-11
- Best wins: Florida State, Duke, Virginia
From an RPI perspective, this squad wasn’t even close to the 2016 team. And without the collection of wins away from Syracuse (they had zero neutral site victories and just two wins on the road), it’s easy to see why the committee made a different decision. There are big wins here — bigger ones than what we currently have. But they were all at home (sound familiar?).
2018: 20-13, 11-seed in NCAA Tournament
- RPI: 39
- Road record: 4-6
- Best wins: Clemson, at Miami, at Louisville
In hindsight, this resume was pretty underwhelming aside from the computer numbers. Still, Syracuse did have some wins away from home — both at a neutral site and on the road — and beat quality opponents on the road. All of that, and it was barely enough to get the Orange into the field. All was forgiven because they wound up making the Sweet 16. But again, that’s not what matters for our purposes here. That team still had a better resume than this year’s does.
2019: 20-13, 8-seed in NCAA Tournament
- NET: 42
- Road record: 6-4
- Best wins: at Duke, Louisville, at Ohio State
In year one of the NET, Syracuse didn’t fare incredibly well against Quad 1 teams (3-9), but had more wins against them than they do this year. They were also a solid 7-7 away from the Dome — important proof to the committee that they could win away from their home floor. The win at Duke was a big enough card to play that it vaulted them up to the 8 line.
2020: 18-14, NCAA Tournament cancelled
- NET: 61
- Road record: 6-5
- Best wins: at Virginia, at Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech
Last year’s team was very much out of the NCAA Tournament at-large conversation, yet potentially had better wins than this year’s squad does and definitely had more success away from home. The 61 NET rating is about 10 or so spots behind where Syracuse is at this year. But again: That’s mitigated by the more favorable road record, so I’d say it’s a wash. Again, this team wasn’t making the field without another upset or two had their been a tournament.
2021: 15-8, TBD
- NET: 49
- Road record: 2-7
- Best wins: Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina
As mentioned, this is the 2017 team’s resume, basically, with fewer top-tier wins and a better NET/RPI rating. There were fewer opportunities to collect big or road wins this year, and that should be taken into some consideration. Still, this is not a shoo-in resume by any means — both when comparing it to the other teams on 2021’s bubble or the previous Orange bubble teams.
Sweeping NC State over three games this season would be nice and necessary for Syracuse to keep its NCAA Tournament dreams alive. But doing so wouldn’t add another Quad 1 win and could even jeopardize the one the Pack currently count for. Adding Virginia at a neutral site at least gives the Orange one of the best wins on the bubble — making for an unquestioned case for inclusion. They have to get there first, of course.