Nine games into the Syracuse basketball season and its already starting to feel like seasons past. In particular, last season. We were told that all the mistakes of the past would be eliminated this year. But now as we've watched for a little more than a month, we have to realize that not much has changed.
Sure there was that nice win over an overpumped Virginia team (and even that came with their best player Marvin Gravesing on the sidelines). And of course that win came on the road, so that was supposed to quiet the NCAA selection committee who snubbed a 21-win, fourth place team a year ago. Because after all, Syracuse didn't win on the road last year, and had this horrible reputation of not ever leaving the Carrier Dome. The committee's key statistic is the RPI, and the Orange is right where you don't want to be again. Right on the edge. An RPI between 30-50 gets you looked at. And when you get looked at and you have home losses to Rhode Island and UMASS and a neutral site loss to Ohio State you have marks against you.
Still, the RPI has greatly increased this year. Up from 50 a year ago, when the committee was able to say no. However, I just can't imagine that it is going to stay in that 35 range when games against Colgate, Cornell, East Tennessee State and Northeastern hit the schedule. With that though it is highly likely that the Orange enters the Big East portion of its schedule with a 10-3 record.
In the last 24 hours, I've seen some doom and gloom Orange fans suggest that Syracuse will have to win 12 conference games just to make the NCAA field. I'd say if that happen and they went to NYC for the BE Tournament with a 22-9 record, they would have a ticket punched for the tournament. In fact, barring any major problems in the next four games, I would think that 11 Big East wins in any fashion will be enough for the Orange. If they get to 21 wins again this year, I think they'll get into the tournament.
Still, there are enough concerns to worry about getting there. Twice this year they have let leads get away against inferior competition down the stretch. Sizable leads that shouldn't have slipped away. When Donte' Greene fouled out last night Syracuse appeared to have no one capable of making the big play down the stretch. And they didn't make enough foul shots.
Certainly, this is a team that has plenty of potential and might get better with experience as the season wears on. But its also a team that because of the inexperience is capable of being beaten by inferior teams.
The question that all Orange fans want to know is, will this team make the tournament? And the answer is fairly complex. It really depends on how they perform in the Big East, and if they get to 10 or 11 wins. Realistically, it shouldn't be that daunting of a task. The Orange has 8 Big East games that should be looked at as sure wins for tournament teams. If they manage to win 7 of those, they put themselves in a position where winning four of their remaining 10 games just about locks up a March Dance. That means four wins against any of the following West Virginia, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, Marquette or Villanova or Georgetown and they play the latter two each twice and they should get to the magic number.
Of course that means they don't screw up in any of the four easy ones the rest of the way, and they find a way to win seven of eight against the lesser part of the conference. If that happens, Syracuse could find its way back into the NCAA field. If not they'll be back in the NIT.
Too much was made over who Syracuse did and didn't play last year, and where they played them. Syracuse played a schedule worthy of NCAA inclusion last year, they just didn't win enough games. They are getting close to going down that road again. But they have a healthy RPI of 35 and they have the bulk of the schedule in front of them. They need to take it out of the committees hands. They need to win 15 games the rest of the way.
Don't let the committee be a factor.