Lost amid the point-shaving rumors and freshman insurrection is the frustrating truth, Syracuse basketball’s “brutal” non-conference slate was really not all that brutal. Let’s be honest – we were all duped. Before the season began The Fizz applauded Jim Boeheim for his risky early-season scheduling.
But looking at the road to the Big East four months later, that treacherous drive was like going 30 mph through a school zone at midnight. After Syracuse’s skid-snapping win at UConn, the Orange sit 17th in the KenPom ratings (which as noted before on The Fizz, is the best indicator of NCAA tourney seeding).
SU faced at least six tournament-worthy programs in the non-conference, all wins en route to an 18-0 start, and a spot at #3 in the AP Poll. Even at the time, many of us figured that top 3 ranking was a reach. What we couldn’t have known in September was the paper tiger Syracuse’s non-con was, although maybe The Per’fesser did.
Here are the current KenPom rankings for the six “big boys” on SU’s early season slate:
- Michigan State: 45
- Michigan: 60
- Georgia Tech: 72
- N.C. State: 96
- Northern Iowa: 101
- Cornell: 222
In fact, with as awful as both Northern Iowa and Cornell have been, the games against Drexel and Iona ended up being better for SU’s strength of schedule. But the Dragons and Gales are only rated 82 and 83, respectfully.
A better gauge would be how Syracuse has fared against the monsters of the conference. KenPom currently ranks nine Big East teams in the nation’s top 25 (SU included). Versus these top 25 teams the Orange is 2-3 and will face them five more times (Georgetown twice, Louisville, Villanova, West Virginia).
What we learned is no matter how tough the non-conference scheduling looks, the greatest indicator of tournament success will always be the battle zone Big East.