Syracuse: This Year's Arizona?

I continue to be amazed by seeing Syracuse as a safe 'in' in more people's projected brackets. ESPN didn't even have Syracuse listed as one of 20 teams in a recent online poll of who's in and who's out. Am I missing something? Check out their resume:

10 Best Wins
@ 27 Marquette
15 Georgetown
@ 86 Providence
33 Villanova
101 Connecticut
68 DePaul
@ 165 South Florida
90 Hofstra
@ 190 Rutgers
97 Holy Cross

9 Losses
74 Wichita St
59 Drexel
@ 116 St. John's
@ 101 Connecticut
21 Notre Dame
58 Oklahoma St
12 Pittsburgh
vs 21 Notre Dame
@ 39 Louisville
@ 33 Villanova

The bottom four losses can be excused...those are tough games. However, home losses against Wichita State and Drexel are bad losses...those teams are above average but a tournament caliber team should win those games. Same with @ St. John's and @ Connecticut -- on thr road but two sup-par games.

Syracuse does have some quality wins: at Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova at home. People were ready to declare them in a couple of weeks ago on the strength of their home win against Georgetown. A quality win, no doubt, but let's not hand over the keys to the Camaro just yet. A typical 13th seed would be expected to beat Georgetown 42% of the time at home.

Using that same approach for the entire season, we see that a typical 13 seed, the bare minimum to get an at-large bid would be expected to win 22.88 games given Syracuse's schedule. So what does the fact that Syracus won only 22 tell you?

Syracuse's Schedule _Exp Wins_ _Exp Loss_
Typical 1 Seed 28.77 3.23
Typical 2 Seed 27.73 4.27
Typical 3 Seed 27.54 4.46
Typical 4 Seed 26.56 5.44
Typical 5 Seed 25.87 6.13
Typical 6 Seed 25.23 6.77
Typical 7 Seed 24.79 7.21
Typical 8 Seed 24.46 7.54
Typical 9 Seed 24.29 7.71
Typical 10 Seed 24.05 7.95
Typical 11 Seed 23.75 8.25
Typical 12 Seed 23.07 8.93
Typical 13 Seed 22.88 9.12

The Orange are very fortunate to have the RPI numbers working in their advantage, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them make the tournament.

RPI: 51 (Colton Index: 64)
RPI SOS: 40 (91)
NC SOS: 127 (318!!!)

I had to double check that non-conference SOS. Wow...

90 Hofstra
97 Holy Cross
105 Baylor
110 Pennsylvania
143 Charlotte
@ 262 Canisius
172 UTEP
177 Northeastern
272 Colgate
281 St. Bonaventure
299 St. Francis-NY
58 Oklahoma St (Loss)
59 Drexel (Loss)
74 Wichita St (Loss)

Syracuse only played one non-conference game on the road (Canisius) and another on a neutral court (Oklahoma St). The rest were home games. I estimate that the typical 45th rated team would win a whopping 88.9% of Syracuse's non-conference games, and that's how you end up less than 20 slots from the bottom.

Two other things that I like to look at is Quality Wins and Losses. For either measure, I sum up how good (or bad) each one of their wins (or losses) are relative to the SOS benchmark expected winning percentage from the 45th-ranked team. It's similar to looking at number of top 50 or top 100 RPI wins, but I'm just summing up all the wins so you do get some credit (even if it's a little) for beating other teams as well.

And at this point in the season, teams all stack up differently in terms of QW and QL. Some teams like Illinois don't have many quality wins (QW rank 64th), but don't have any bad losses either (QL rank 25th). Some others like Missouri St have quality wins (20th) but a bunch of bad losses (63rd). And the Committee will have to find the right balance for teams like Memphis (QW: 37, QL: 3) and Winthrop (QW: 89, QL: 2) that have gaudy records but haven't beaten many quality teams. Generally the Committee values QW over QL, but there's no right answer for what the balance should be.

Looking at Syracuse in the same way, we see that they rank 53rd in Quality Wins and 70th in Quality Losses. Generally if you want to be a tournament-caliber team, you probably want at least one of those below 50, don't you think? More importantly, there are 46 other teams that have BOTH more QW AND less QL. A thorough review of wins versus losses would put Syracuse behind each of these teams no matter how you weighted QW & QL. And some of the teams directly ahead of them in both are teams that are either on the bubble or barely even considered at all:

Syracuse (QW: 53, QL: 70)
Oklahoma St (50,65)
Appalachian St (47,53)
Alabama (49,49)
Stanford (28,64)
Georgia (48,33)
Air Force (33,47)
Missouri St (20,63)
Butler (36,35)
BYU (51.27)
Florida St (44,29)
Georgia Tech (29,36)
Clemson (30,34)

Fortunately for Syracuse, the Committee doesn't use the Colton Index (yet!), so at the minimum they have a much better chance of getting in. Syracuse could be a mini-version of Arizona last year, another team with a lackluster resume but very favorable RPI numbers. Arizona had a RPI of 23 vs a Colton Index of 51 last year. Simply being Arizona or Syracuse can't hurt either...there's probably less propensity for the Committee to question the validity of the number.


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