The numbers seemed to favor Syracuse.
Overall, the Orange finished with 22 wins, including 10 conference wins. Key wins included toppling then-No. 10 Georgetown and Villanova, and also at Marquette. All three of those teams will be dancing. Syracuse, for the first time since the 2001-02 season, will not.
“We finished 10-6 in the league, which is fifth place, and we thought that would be enough, but the committee didn’t agree with us,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “There is nothing we can do about that. I know in our league, a 10-6 team has never not gotten into the NCAA Tournament.”
To be sure, Syracuse had a weak RPI (51) and a relatively soft strength of schedule (45). Add this to the losses at home to Wichita State and Drexel, and then a loss to Oklahoma State at Madison Square Garden, and Syracuse could be considered a bubble team.
But selection committee chairman Gary Walters said Syracuse didn’t make the tournament because of the strange scheduling of the Big East’s conference schedule. The Big East, which consists of 16 teams, had some teams that wouldn’t play each other in the regular season. This, Walters said, hurt Syracuse.
“One of the things that complicates things was the unbalanced schedule in conference play,” Walters said to the Associated Press. “Outside the league, there were also some people scrutinizing the nonconference schedule in a very intense way.”
That is absolutely baffling.
The Orange didn’t play West Virginia, Seton Hall or Rutgers at all this season. It’s not like Syracuse avoided Pittsburgh and Georgetown; they didn’t play two teams that were in the basement of the Big East and another (West Virginia) that Syracuse finished ahead of in the regular season standings.
Instead, the schedule saw the Orange playing all six teams from the Big East that are now headed to the tournament — Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Pittsburgh. It’s also worth pointing out that the Orange finished the season strong, winning six of its last eight games.
The bottom line here is that I’m not quite sure why the scheduling of in conference games hurt Syracuse’s resume.
What’s more perplexing is how Arkansas and Stanford were selected ahead of Syracuse.
Arkansas is the stronger of the two teams, having finished 21-13 with an RPI of 35 and an SOS of 15. But it’s difficult to justify how the Razorbacks made the tournament with a 7-9 record coming out of the Swiss-cheese SEC West Conference, including losses to Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn.
But the selection that should really irk Orange fans is the selection of Stanford. They had a weaker RPI (65) and losses to Santa Clara and California, which in the minds of the selection committee should’ve been far worse than Syracuse’s losses Drexel and Oklahoma State.
The Cardinals were 18-12 overall with a 10-8 record in the Pac-10, and they stumbled down the stretch, losing four of five, including a first round exit in the Pac-10 tournament. I’m not quite sure what message the selection committee is trying to send with this one, but there are two ways to look at it:
1) You have to look at the overall body of work, because Stanford did have wins against Texas Tech, Oregon, and UCLA. But if you’re looking at that, then you have to look toward the RPI, in which Syracuse is rated higher.
2) You have to look at how the team finished the season, because Arkansas plowed through the SEC tournament and lost to Florida in the championship game. Problem there is that Syracuse had a strong finish to the season, and then you’d have to take into account Stanford’s flop at the end and leave the Cardinals out.
Under either scenario, Syracuse should be in. And don’t just take my word for it – I’ve got a hall of fame coach and a panel of experts on my side.
“I have no way of understanding why we are not in,” Boeheim said. “I don’t agree with all the experts, but every single expert had us in. Every single one, even our local expert, (Doug) Gottlieb had us in. No one, of all these people who prognosticate these things, had Syracuse out of the tournament. No one even had us on the bubble.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2007 edition of The Juice.