Cuse Country

Home Away From Dome for Syracuse Orange Fans

the realist’s take – we’re just not that good

Posted by syracusan on March 15, 2007

The day before Black Sunday, I flew down to Tampa to spend some time with papa Syracusan during my week off. I realized there was an ill wind in the air when I got off the plane and saw a giant digital events billboard in Tampa airport exclaiming Welcome ACC Tournament 2007! (It also read Welcome Scientologists, Ron’s Birthday 2007! But that’s another story). Unbeknownst to me, I had dropped right into the midst of ACC mania, despite traveling to a city where no ACC team resides. How exactly Tampa turned into enemy territory I do not know; the only DI team in the area is the Big East’s USF. It’s typical ACC arrogance I suppose, to hold their tournament in our zone of influence.

The ACC’s posters and paraphernalia were all over town, and coverage in the local newspapers and TV was heavy, but I was able to drown it all out lying in the sun on the beach. What I wasn’t able to drown out was a growing sense of unease about the approaching NCAA draw. I haven’t chimed in about last weekend’s debacle yet, though I’ve enjoyed everyone else’s tortured rantings, both on this forum and on other blog sites. Everyone has made a lot of good points, and it’s almost served to convince me that we were in fact robbed. Almost.

In the final two weeks or so of the season, I checked the RPI every single day. What I knew then, and everyone has realized by now, is that despite our hot end to the season, we weren’t seeing results on those charts. I got a lump in my throat after every victory, when inevitably we’d only tick up one or two points, when we really needed to jump ten at a time to get into the “safe” zone. A few people mentioned this down the stretch, including the official blog over at the Post-Standard, but for the most part the RPI faded from the conversation after the Georgetown game. But not for me.

I kept checking and checking, hoping that some of our former opponents would do us a favor by winning some games, and switch up the math in our favor. I cheered on OK St as they made a little run in the Big XII Tourney, and toasted Holy Cross when they won theirs. But the extent of the compiled stats over the course of the whole season ran too deep. Our ranking never budged from the 49 mark. I’ve been following the NCAA selection process avidly for 15 or so years, and in all that time, no team with an RPI that awful has had a right to call itself a lock.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when everyone else on earth considered us a lock. Not only the whole of the national media, but the guru himself, Joe Lunardi. Lunardi has been no friend to Syracuse over the years (though I’m sure many schools would say that about him), and he’s about as conservative a prognosticator as we have in the sports world. He’s a cold, hard, calculator with no room for subjectivity and no sympathy for “conventional wisdom”. So when even Lunardi took us off the bubble, I forced myself to swallow and figured there must be something different about this year. There must be a sense in the zeitgeist that the RPI is a little frazzled this season and shouldn’t be looked to as a guide as it has in the past. Too bad no one told the committee.

In reality, the RPI is there for a reason. It gets at certain truths that you can’t otherwise see. Yes, it’s flawed, and it overvalues SOS and your opponents SOS, but there’s meaning behind those numbers and the committee respects those meanings. They take other things into account, but they value the RPI as guide, and it’s a little bizarre to me that the entire Syracuse world collectively stuck it’s head in the sand down the stretch this season. Our godawful RPI was like the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the room that everyone chose to ignore.

To be clear, I didn’t have the balls to say any of this last week. I was caught up in the tidal wave of positive public opinion about our status. Also, there was no compelling evidence that we were out, per se. I never thought that we had a bad case for the NCAAs, specifically. I just thought that we had some serious irrational exuberance going on, and that in reality we were firmly on the bubble. An RPI around 50 can certainly get you in, as can an RPI much worse than that, but in my experience if you’re not in the top 40, you have no business being confident about your fate. Instead we were collectively complacent, which made it hurt a lot more when the ax fell.

My growing sense of dread intensified last weekend for reasons a little harder to quantify. As scores from other conference tournaments flashed by, the results felt troublesome. I never did the math, but after so many years tracking this stuff, you start to get a feel for the shifting fortunes of teams on a national scale. Too many bubble teams were doing well. Too many mid-majors were producing screwy results in their tournaments. Hmmm…Nevada didn’t win the WAC, that can’t be good. Wait, Arkansas is in the SEC title game?? It’s not something you can quantify in your head, it’s more like a veteran card player whose subconscious counts the cards for him. Hmmm…it probably would have been better if Southern Illinois had won the MVC instead of Creighton. It’s too hard to keep track of the 34 at large births in your head as the wins and losses ebb and flow, but sometimes experience screams out warnings in the back of your head, even if you can’t figure out the math yourself.

But like I said, I never had the balls to say any of this ahead of time on Cuse Country or anywhere else (not that my dad would have been all that interested in hearing it while we were sitting on a sailboat in Boca Ciega Bay). The only guy I read down the stretch who had the situation right was MightyRay over at OrangeHoops, who repeatedly stressed that we needed to go 6-0 in our last six to get in the Tournament (which we did not do). Many thought he was being overly conservative, but he had it right on target. Alas, he didn’t stick to his guns, and after the 5-1 finish and the thrilling Georgetown game, he got caught in the hype like the rest of us. He posited that the Villanova loss was acceptable as long we didn’t lose to UConn in the first round of the BE Tourney. It made sense at the time, but what that fails to account for is that beating a terrible UConn team doesn’t make up for missing the resume building opportunity of beating a Villanova. The UConn win was as useless as the South Florida or St John’s wins in our last 10. Those games might as well not exist as far as helping our cause.

Immediately after the Georgetown game we were a lock for the Tournament, but the problem is we spent the next week and a half treading water. We neither improved nor damaged our resume, but going 1-2 after the Hoyas game impressed no one. More importantly, too many other teams did what they needed to do to leapfrog us during that stretch, and we didn’t take care of business defending the ground we had gained. You have to be prepared for the at-large bids to get a little wacky during the conference tournaments, but instead we let down our guard. Doug Gottlieb is a massive douchebag for proclaiming us a “lock” one day, and then bragging like a cocksucker after we were left out that we “never had a chance”, but his defense for that flip flop made sense: at one point we were definitely in. Then the landscape changed around us and we were back out again. Shit happens.

[For an amazing mano e mano throwdown between our two favorite sparring partners, scroll down this page on ESPN.com to the Podcast link. It’s a 15 minute interview on ESPN radio between Doug Gottlieb and Jim Boeheim. Jimmy agreed to go on his show right after Black Sunday, and they have a pretty good debate. Lets just say that the tension is palpable on the air.]

At the end of the day, I don’t buy any of the conspiracy theories and I don’t buy that we’re so clearly better than the other bubble teams that got in ahead of us. I think we have an equal or minutely superior argument to Illinois and Arkansas (interestingly, Jimmy has no beef with the Stanford pick), but not to such a degree that it’s a travesty of justice. The only complaint that I think holds water is the concern about the Big East not having representation on the Committee this year. Human nature dictates a small degree of bias, no matter who you are, and that right there is probably all the explanation you need as to who got in. In my eyes, there were about 7 roughly equal teams shooting for the last 4 spots, and through a combination of bad luck and not having an advocate in the room, we were one of the 3 who got screwed. For the record, my money says Drexel was next in line though, not us.

I’ll wrap up this feature length exposition with one last bit of subjective reasoning: if you want to know why SU isn’t in the dance, just watch us play. We’re really not a great team. The way we looked for much of the South Alabama game was fairly representative of the way we look all the time. It’s not pretty, it’s not impressive, and it doesn’t give you much room to demand inclusion in any exclusive clubs. We lost to too many bad teams, we failed to beat good teams in our limited chances, we had but one road victory over a quality opponent, and our record against the top 50 speaks for itself. It sucks that we’re not dancing, but it’s absolutely a tossup as to whether we deserved to be there.

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7 Responses to “the realist’s take – we’re just not that good”

  1. bobbyk said

    Bah, we got screwed, no two ways around it, this is a great “Hindsight is 20-20” essay. Louisville spanked Stanford last night, boy that pick was a great one by the committee. VCU beats duke, yeah duke deserved that 6 seed. Say what you will, but many teams in this tournament had what could be considered “bad losses” ‘Cuse wasn’t the only one.

  2. Matt said

    I’m not a fan of the ‘we got screwed’ mentality, it’s nice to see a perspective that isn’t that. I was almost embarrassed because of all of the signs and shirts at the game Wed. Did you come to cheer on your team or not? (But then again I ran into Gross and he alluded to being ‘shafted’ – what kind of message is this sending? Say it on TV, but to your fans – after a win where 16k came out to show support the team? Really?)

    The RPI is way too flawed to be taken at face value, but any tool they have to ‘force’ rank teams is going to be taken into account. Nice piece, the ‘We’re really not a great team.’ sentence is cruel! Take it out!

  3. Tom said

    I don’t want to harp on the conspiracy theory angle too hard, but I think you’re a little quick to brush it off. Bottom line to me is that the NCAA owning the NIT and having an interest in seeing it make a profit is a tremendous conflict of interest that can’t possibly be legal. If you’re the NCAA and you can take Syracuse on a weaker than average year and have them lose (probably) in the first round, or send them to the NIT, get a couple games in the dome setting attendance records and being broadcast on ESPN, sending them to the NIT is far more profitable than accepting them in the NCAA, where you’re going to sell your tickets and get TV ratings no matter what.
    I’m not saying I’m 100% certain that this consciously went down in the selection room last weekend, but I’m saying this whole thing is a business and money is their biggest motivator. Don’t you think there’s enough financial incentive in this equation to start asking questions? Can we get Ralph Nader on this to keep him busy for a few years and make him stop running for president?

  4. OrangeRay said

    Admittedly, I did jump on the bandwagon with the big win over Georgetown. If you hear enough of the national media saying something you want to hear, I guess its tough not to buy into it. However, I think the Orange are about the 40th best team in the country. They probably can play with any of the big guys, though more often than not they would probably come up short. They also could lose to anybody on a given night; all in all, they are what they are… a team that won roughly 2/3 of their games this year.

    My gripe with the committee this year is not so much with that they left Syracuse out, but who they left Syracuse out in favor of. If Air Force & Drexel had taken the positions that Syracuse was looking at, I would not have a gripe. Air Force and Drexel were deserving, and it would be a dicey argument to assume Syracuse over them. Then again, I thought that both Air Force and Drexel were going to get in.

    Instead, the committee appears to have fallen to nepotism and chosen those teams they are more familiar with, in Arkansas, Illinois and Stanford. And I do find it insulting to have those teams in the tournament above Syracuse.

    I’m tired with Stanford getting the “free pass” because of a tough schedule. Losing to tough teams proves nothing; you’ve got to win against them and on a regular basis to prove something. Stanford has some impressive wins, but they had several losses too. And at least show you are a hot team when coming to tournament time, whereas going 4-6 doesn’t send that message.

    Stanford reminds me very much of the 2001-02 Syracuse team. The Orangemen that year finished 20-11, 9-7 in conference play. They played an amazing out of conference schedule, beating DePaul, Michigan State and Wake Forest, and losing to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee (and yet people say Syracuse never schedules anyone tough and outside New York State). The team fell apart, went 3-7 down the stretch and had several off the court issues. As a result, they ended up not getting into the NCAA tournament.

    Yet, despite their flaws, they had enough talent to get to the NIT Final Four. I would submit that the 2001-02 Syracuse Orangmen, who were not deserving of an NCAA bid (I agree with that) was better than Stanford this year. And the committee thought Stanford was good enough to get in this year.

    The committee was also woefully inconsistent with its seeding. Duke’s resume was not significantly better than then Orangemen’s, yet Duke warranted a 6th seed and Syracuse none? I’m not saying that Syracuse deserved to be in the tournament because of Duke’s inclusion, but if a committee thinks Duke is good enough for a 6th seed (which clearly they weren’t), then how do you not think Syracuse is good enough to belong?

    So to quickly summarize what was a long comment, if the committee wanted to reward some deserving mid-majors and send some BCS schools such as Syracuse home, I’m all for that. And that was something I was afraid of. However, to leave Syracuse out in favor of other BCS schools and to not reward the mid majors, that to me is what is wrong.

  5. Josh said

    “We’re just not that good” is certainly a reasonable statement, and you make some good points. This guy actually had it right, BEFORE the selections were announced, he had SU back on the bubble and “teetering”. The problem, as OrangeRay correctly puts it above, is that even though SU is “not that good”, there were several “not that good” teams that made it in, who had arguably worse resumes. It’s not that SU didn’t make it, but for whom they got passed over.

  6. We win one more game, we’re in. There’s no way in hell they’d have turned away an 11-5 Big East team. Not possible.

  7. Chris said

    You’re wrong in your analysis. Jay Bilas said it best in his post-selection show analysis. Besides the fact that SU had the numbers to back up us getting in over Illinois, Arkansas, Purdue (and I’d even throw Xavier in there, as Bilas did), he said “Syracuse looks and feels like a tournament team.” That’s what is perhaps most disappointing. We were playing our best basketball of the year, and I honestly think we could have done some damange in the tourney, possibly upsetting a few higher seeds and making it to the Sweet 16. If we’re shooting the ball well, there aren’t many teams that can beat us. We proved that in the G’town game. We beat one of the hottest teams in the country (by 12 points, btw) and is their only loss in like the past 17 games! As we were coming down the stretch run and winning 7 out of our last 10, I was thinking that I couldn’t wait for the NCAAs because I felt confident and knew we were playing our best basketball of the year. And I also knew the pressure would be off with a 10 or worse seed. If we had made the tourney, you better bet that the prognosticators would have all been picking us to slay a 7 seed and then a 2 seed like Wisconsin in the 2nd round.

    Also, your statement that we’re not a great team is bunk as well. There are some 50 teams who make the tourney who aren’t “great.” I’d say only really 8-10 “great” teams make the tourney in any given year; the rest are wannabes, also-rans, and potential Cinderellas. And I think we would have been a Cinderella had the committee not given us a royal screw job.

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