Syracuse (WSYR-TV)- There is has been a lot of hoopla surrounding Syracuse basketball’s accession to number 1 in the national polls. It’s great for the fans, it’s great for area t-shirt stores (full disclosure: I do have an SU #1 tee but it is from 2 years ago), but I think it is time to shift our focus to what really matters now that the non conference schedule is almost done: getting through the Big East with minimal damage and securing a # 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The last time a team went through an entire NCAA basketball season undefeated was almost 40 years ago (Indiana 1975-76) so let’s not even go there. Syracuse will lose a game this season, maybe even 3 or 4. The question is can we build up a body of work in the next two months to make our case bullet proof on Selection Sunday so the Road to New Orleans goes through Pittsburgh then Boston.
Barring an epic upset versus Tulane we are going to finish the non conference schedule undefeated. Contrary to popular opinion outside CNY, the schedule is not that soft. Florida and Stanford will be near the top of their respective leagues. Prior to the Tulane game, Syracuse SOS was rated as #10 by RealTime RPI.
Now, what does Syracuse need to do to get the #1 seed? Losing three or fewer conference games seems to be key. I looked back at last year’s #1 seeds and they all fit that category: Ohio State (2), Kansas (2), Duke (3) and Pittsburgh (3). Most of these teams would lose their conference games on the road but in the cases of both Kansas (vs Texas) and Pittsburgh (vs Notre Dame) they lost games at home. I think that anyone can agree that Allen Field House and the Petersen Events Center are two of the tougher places to places to play in the country.
The point here is a loss at the Dome, especially to an upper tier Big East Team, is not the end to the dream of the number #1 seed.
So how does the road map look for the Orange going into the Big East? The three toughest road games appear to be Marquette (Jan 7th), Louisville (Feb. 13th) and UConn (Feb 25th). Obviously, we need to play to win these games but if we end up 1-2 over those 3 games we aren’t that bad off.
Of course there will also be some tough home games. Pitt (Jan. 16th), Georgetown ( Feb 8th), UConn (Feb 11th) and the home finale versus Louisville (March 3rd) seem to be the biggest games on the home schedule. Win all those games and we are in great shape; lose one and things get shaky with the selection committee but it is not a deal breaker.
So there is my scenario for getting to a number one seed: Lose three or fewer conference games and forget whether we’re number 1 or not in the polls. Of course, if another Big East team runs the table and goes undefeated then all bets are off but only Louisville in 2006-07 had only 2 losses in league play over the last decade. The chances of someone going through the brutal Big East with 2, let alone 1 or zero, losses seems remote.
So it’s not #1 in the polls that should matter right now, it’s a #1 seed in the tournament that should be the focus of Syracuse fans.
- Jim Teske