I had stated earlier this year before the conference play began that I believed the Orange had to go 11-7 in conference play, 21-10 going into the conference tournament, and go at least 1-1 at Madison Square Garden to make the NCAA tournament.
That included a 6-4 start in the Big East, and a 5-3 finish. So how is Syracuse faring?
The Orange did start out 6-4 in conference play, and split with Villanova, something I thought they needed to do. They lost one game, Cincinnati, that I thought they had to win, and this is looking to be their worst loss on their schedule. They helped a little by beating both South Florida and Providence. If they could have pulled out the victory over Georgetown, they would have that ever important ‘signature win’. Now they still have to hunt for it.
I still think they need to finish 5-3 down the stretch, and that is going to be a very tough task. The are already 0-1, with the loss to UConn last Wednesday. Tonight’s win at South Florida is a ‘must win’, as is Seton Hall on March 5th. They are likely the two easiest conference games remaining on their schedule, and both are road games. Conference road games have been extremely difficult this season for Syracuse (2-3), and Big East teams in general have had a tough time on the road. So these are not going to be easy games. But Syracuse needs five more wins, these are the two most likely candidates, and a couple of road wins should definitely improve the perception of the team.
The other three wins are going to be tough to find, among the remaining five games. All five are higher in the Big East standings than Syracuse (Georgetown 1st, Notre Dame 2nd, Louisville 3rd, Pittsburgh 5th, Marquette 6th). That’s a tough group to pull five wins out of. They will get some signature wins out of that group, and no bad losses. If they can beat Georgetown (at home) next weekend, they may need only one more win out of this group. If they don’t beat Georgetown, I think they need three.
If Syracuse enters the Big East tournament with a 10-8 record in conference (4-4 down the stretch) and a 20-11 overall record, I think they will need to go 2-1 in the tournament to earn a Big East bid… unless they get a win over the Hoyas next weekend or if they meet them in the tournament and get a win there.
Here’s some other numbers to consider:
Syracuse’s current RPI is #46; that RPI will likely go up, even with losses down the stretch, as their level of competition increases. Their strength of schedule (SOS) is currently #12, something in their favor. But as I’ve always felt, you not only need to schedule tough games, but you’ve got to win them too.
The Orange are 1-6 versus teams in the top 50 RPI. That’s not a good sign for the NCAA committee. They haven’t shown they can play with the top teams yet.
Syracuse is 11-0 versus teams with RPI indexes 100+, so they have no bad losses from the RPI perspective. Cincinnati is the worst loss of the year at 73. Villanova is the second worse loss with a 64; that 64 always diminishes the value of the Syracuse ‘big win’ last weekend against the Wildcats. Virginia, a big road win early in the season, particularly because it was an out of conference big name win, has been diminished with Virginia being ranked 140, 11-12 overall. The biggest non-conference win for the Orange is St. Josephs (41)… ironically one of those teams Jim Boeheim gets criticized for scheduling.
None of the teams ahead of Syracuse has a worse record against the top 50 RPI. Then again, several teams ahead of Syracuse have bad losses (five have 2 losses against teams with 100+ RPI, and 11 have one loss against that group). These facts further stress the importance of Syracuse winning their two ‘must win’ games, and getting a few signature wins under their belt.
By the end of the regular season, Syracuse will have 12 games against the top 50 RPI teams, which will definitely be one of the highest totals in the NCAA. The Big East tournament could add a few more. If other teams slip down the stretch, the Orange could sneak in with one (or possibly two) fewer wins than I believe are needed. But that is depending on other teams determining Syracuse’s destiny, and that’s not something I’m comfortable with.
The good thing is the Orange can control their destiny. A strong finish will easily secure their place in the NCAA tournament.
Let’s go Orange!