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Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020 at 8:15 am

Evaluating Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament Résumé with One Month Left

By Sean Scott

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Beat Reporter

CLEMSON, S.C. — As the calendar turns to February, each game becomes a little more important for teams deemed to be “on the bubble.” Syracuse (13-8, 6-4 Atlantic Coast) fans have grown used to Bubble Watch being a regular term over the past few seasons, and with Selection Sunday a little more than five weeks away, now is a good time to evaluate the Orange’s résumé, the bubble itself and what a path to the tournament might look like. 

Syracuse’s 71-70 road loss to Clemson (11-9, 5-5) on Tuesday snapped a five-game win streak. This stretch had snuck the Orange back into the bubble conversation after an 8-7 start made finishing .500 more of a possibility than any postseason appearance. While the loss to a team with Clemson’s record looks debilitating on paper, it is not nearly as bad of a loss as some might think and there is still plenty of optimism for this team’s tournament chances.

The Résumé

Syracuse is currently ranked 60th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, which is one of the most important factors the selection committee considers for at-large bids into the tournament. As the NCAA defines it, the NET ranking system “relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses.” Typically, strong bubble teams have a top-50 NET ranking, yet just last season St. John’s made the tournament with a NET ranking of 73, so the Orange are at least within range.

Syracuse’s 13-8 record might not look too impressive overall, but it has to be broken down into the committee’s quadrant system. The Orange are 3-3 versus Quadrant 1 teams, 1-5 in Quadrant 2 games and 9-0 versus Quadrant 3 and 4 teams. The committee sees Quadrant 3 and 4 losses as bad losses while viewing Quadrant 1 wins as great wins. These Q1 wins can make or break a bubble team. As for what defines a team’s “quadrant,” it is based on an opponent’s NET ranking and where the game was played. Here is the breakdown of the quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

This is why the Clemson loss doesn’t look nearly as bad. A road loss to a team ranked 84th like Clemson qualifies as a Q2 loss, a sort of middle tier that means it wasn’t too much of a missed opportunity.

The committee also considers other factors like KenPom ranking. The Orange are currently ranked 51st, according to kenpom.com, aligned with fellow bubble teams.

The Bubble

Syracuse is currently listed on seven brackets out of 98, according to bracketmatrix.com, an aggregator of online brackets. This leaves them still well on the outside, but if you compare the Orange résumé with a couple other ACC bubble teams, they compare favorably.

North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech all have fewer Quadrant 1 wins than Syracuse. Each of those teams also have at least one “bad loss” in Quadrant 3, while Syracuse has blemish-free Q3 record.

Among the rest of the bubble, only Minnesota has as many Quadrant 1 wins as Syracuse, and nearly every other bubble team has at least one Quadrant 3 or 4 loss. The rest of Syracuse’s ACC schedule provides at least three more Q1 opportunities to further an already strong résumé, while only offering a few pitfalls that could give the Orange some bad losses.

The Path

So how does Syracuse gain ground in the final five weeks to get on the right side of the bubble? The path I see is straightforward, but that does not make it easy for the Orange. For starters, the Orange have to win every remaining game versus Quadrant 3 competition because otherwise an okay resume with a lot of losses would get tanked with a bad loss. This means beating Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest at home, plus beating Boston College on the road. 

In addition, the Orange probably needs to win two of the three Quadrant 2 games against North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Miami. To top it off, Syracuse also likely needs another two big wins in the three remaining Quadrant 1 games versus Duke, Florida State and Louisville. 

If the Orange follow that path, they will end the regular season at 20-11. That might be good enough to earn a bid, but likely one win at the ACC Tournament would clinch Jim Boeheim’s 35th NCAA tournament appearance.

Currently bartorvik.com gives the Orange a 32.3% chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse still has work to do, but a win on Saturday versus Duke would go a long way.

sescott@syr.edu | @TheNumberGuru