Will the bubble burst for the Syracuse Orange come selection Sunday in another two days? That is in the hands of the NCAA selection committee. While ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi forecasted earlier in the week that the Orange were his last team to receive entry into the field of 68, Syracuse will have to sweat it out over the next couple of days. What happens with other “bubble” teams in conference tournaments will largely dictate whether or not the Orange receives a bid.
One of these teams is Oregon State. The Beavers lost to California 76-68 in the PAC-12 tournament quarterfinals leaving them at 19-12. Oregon State, who went 9-9 in the PAC-12, won three of their last four in conference play. The Beavers split their regular season series with conference champion Oregon, Utah, and California who all finished in the top four of the final PAC-12 regular season standings. Their best win is against the Ducks who went 14-4 in the conference and 26-6 overall. As of press time, Oregon is still alive in the PAC-12 Tournament.
Other teams battling with Syracuse on the bubble include Monmouth (27-7, 17-3), Michigan (21-11, 10-8), Tulsa (20-10, 12-6), Connecticut (21-10, 11-7), Texas Southern (18-13, 16-2), St. Mary’s (27-5, 15-3), and Holy Cross (14-19, 5-13).
The fates of all these teams – along with that of Syracuse – are still to be determined with how they do in their postseason tournaments being a big factor. Yet, the committee will also be looking at their full body of work during the whole season. Where teams place in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is always a big factor along with what a team’s record is against any top-25 teams that they faced during the season.
Some of the issues facing the committee will be projecting a team from a non-power conference into the field versus a team from a power conference that might have had a down or sub-par year but still has a decent overall resume like the Orange. How a team finishes the season is also looked at in addressing its’ whole body of work.
For example does a Monmouth team who gained national prominence this season behind head coach King Rice, the former North Carolina starter for the late Dean Smith, get an edge over the Orange who had a down but competitive year in a tougher and power conference in that of the Atlantic Coast Conference? Syracuse finished 19-12 in the regular season and went 9-9 in the ACC where they placed 10th. Monmouth lost to Iona 79-76 in the championship game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on March 7. The Hawks beat Notre Dame, Georgetown, UCLA, and USC this year. While perennial NCAA Tournament participants Georgetown (15-18, 7-11), UCLA (15-17, 6-12), and USC (21-12, 9-9) had down years, those are still positive wins for the lower profile Hawks.
Other teams like Saint Mary’s pose a similar situation for the committee in lining them up against the Orange. The Gaels (27-5,
15-3) swept the two-game regular season series against the Bulldogs (26-7, 15-3) to secure the tiebreaker in winning the West Coast Conference regular season championship. Gonzaga returned the favor in the WCC tournament title game with an 85-75 win over the Gaels on March 8.
That could hurt or help Syracuse.
It can help the Orange as St. Mary’s does not boast a significant non-conference win and by losing in the WCC tournament championship game, it does not give them an automatic bid. If St. Mary’s had won the WCC Tournament, it would of meant Gonzaga – already safely in the NCAA field prior to championship week – would of stolen an at-large bid making it tougher for the Orange to get in.
Although Syracuse lost four of its’ final five regular season games and bowed out in their first game in the ACC Tournament with a 72-71 loss to Pittsburgh, they still have quality wins over Texas A&M who tied with Kentucky to win a share of the regular season Southeastern Conference Championship with a 13-5 conference mark. The Orange beat the Aggies in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis Tournament back in November in Paradise Island, Bahamas where they also beat Connecticut, another bubble team. Also helping Syracuse is that according to the most recent RPI rankings as of March 11, the Orange are 71 in the RPI and have six wins against teams in the top 65. They have beaten Duke (20), Texas A&M (21), St. Bonaventure (25), Notre Dame (31), Connecticut (59), and Georgia Tech (65). Georgia Tech won a game in the ACC Tournament before losing to Virginia in the quarterfinals. They erased an 18-point deficit in the second half to get buy Clemson in overtime. That likely allowed them to pass Syracuse in the RPI. The Orange did beat Georgia Tech in conference play this season.
While Syracuse can benefit from the RPI for the aforementioned reasons, they can also get stung by it. St. Mary’s has an RPI of 37, significantly better than the 71 of the Orange. Although St. Mary’s plays in a mid-major conference, the RPI is something that can carry them over the hump in a bubble decision. Another thing that the Gaels have going for them is that they are 10-3 in their last 13 games. This is a sign of a team that is peaking and playing well, a sign of a worthy NCAA selection. That could allow them to edge out a team like Syracuse in a decision for the final spot or two in the NCAA field.
The selection committee will have a difficult time deciding if the Orange gets an NCAA bid or not. Either way it will be close. The case for Syracuse is that it has a decent RPI and significant wins against teams currently with a higher RPI than them. Although they have lost five of their last six games, they have been competitive and played North Carolina – a likely NCAA number one seed – to a five-point loss on their home court back on Feb. 29.
The fate of the Orange is up for grabs. They have played themselves into a close call. Perhaps they will have to have the outcomes of games around the country go in favorable ways for them in order to secure a bid. The committee has plenty to consider. Syracuse is part of it and will be watching with particular interest over the next three days as well as on Sunday March 13 when the bids are announced. The Orange have done all they can. What happens on basketball courts – particularly with the mid-major conferences – over the next three days, will have a lot to do with the committee deciding whether or not Syracuse gets an NCAA bid.