Timing is everything, especially when it comes to college basketball rankings. Syracuse found itself ranked inside the top 5 for 13 consecutive weeks. The Orange once had its name on the VIP list for a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But after dropping four of its final six regular-season games, no. 11 SU is on the outside looking in. And the ten bouncers in its way may not budge.
But is there actually a chance of Syracuse securing a no. 1 seed? If Syracuse ran the table in Greensboro, could it vault itself to the top of the East Regional? It’s possible. But not probable.
Over the last 25 years, no team that was ranked no. 10 or higher at the conclusion of the regular season—heading into its conference tournament—nabbed a no. 1 seed in the big dance. Seven times, though, during the last quarter century, a team that was ranked as high as ninth in the nation at the end of the regular season did make the leap to a top seed. Take a look at the list. The four no. 1 seeds are listed for each of the last 25 NCAA Tournaments, with their rankings a week before the big dance in parenthesis.
2013 (1) Gonzaga, (3) Indiana, (4) Louisville, (7) Kansas
2012 (1) Kentucky, (2) Syracuse, (4) UNC, (8) Michigan State
*Michigan State went 3-0, and won the Big Ten Tournament
2011 (1) Ohio State, (2) Kansas, (3) Pittsburgh, (5) Duke
2010 (1) Kansas, (2) Kentucky, (3) Syracuse, (4) Duke
2009 (1) UNC, (2) Pittsburgh, (3) UConn, (5) Louisville
2008 (1) UNC, (2) Memphis, (3) UCLA, (4) Kansas
2007 (1) Ohio State, (2) Kansas, (6) Florida, (8) UNC
*UNC went 3-0, and won the ACC Tournament
2006 (1) Duke, (2) UConn, (3) Villanova, (4) Memphis
2005 (1) Illinois, (2) UNC, (3) Duke, (8) Washington
*Washington went 3-0, and won the Pac-10 Tournament
2004 (1) St Joe’s, (2) Stanford, (5) Duke, (8) Kentucky
*Kentucky went 3-0, and won the SEC Tournament
2003 (1) Arizona, (2) Kentucky, (3) Texas, (6) Oklahoma
2002 (1) Kansas, (2) Maryland, (3) Duke, (5) Cincinnati
2001 (1) Stanford, (2) Michigan State, (3) Duke, (4) Illinois
2000 (2) Stanford, (3) Duke, (5) Michigan State, (9) Arizona
*Arizona finished the season 2-0
1999 (1) Duke, (2) Michigan State, (3) UConn, (4) Auburn
1998 (1) Duke, (2) Arizona, (3) Kansas, (4) UNC
1997 (1) Kansas, (2) Minnesota, (5) UNC, (6) Kentucky
1996 (1) Kentucky, (2) UMass, (3) UConn, (4) Purdue
1995 (1) UCLA, (2) Kansas, (3) Kentucky, (7) Wake Forest
1994 (1) Arkansas, (3) Missouri, (4) UNC, (6) Purdue
1993 (1) UNC, (2) Indiana, (3) Michigan, (4) Kentucky
1992 (1) Duke, (3) Kansas, (5) Ohio State, (8) UCLA
*UCLA Finished the season 4-0
1991 (1) UNLV, (2) Ohio State, (5) Arkansas, (7) UNC
1990 (1) Oklahoma, (3) UNLV, (7) Michigan State, (8) UConn
*UConn went 3-0, and won the Big East Tournament
1989 (1) Arizona, (2) Oklahoma, (3) Georgetown, (4) Illinois
Of those seven teams, there is a common trend. All of them either won their conference tournaments, or went undefeated the last week of the year (the Pac-10 at the time did not have a conference tournament from 1991-2001, so UCLA in 1992 and Arizona in 2000 played their regular-season slates straight through the end of the usual conference tournament week).
Bottom line, if there’s any chance that SU can jump seven slots in the rankings, it has to win the ACC Tournament in its debut season. What helps the Orange is if that was to happen, the Cuse would go through two teams ranked ahead of them, no. 7 Duke and no. 6 Virginia. The Tournament matters. In 1990, UConn went a perfect 3-0 in the Big East tournament and jumped over Kansas, who was the no. 3 team in the country at the time. Kansas had even been ranked no. 1 or no. 2 for the previous three months of that season, but because it lost in the Big Eight Championship game, it lost its no. 1 seed to the Huskies.
The same situation happened in 2007. UNC and Florida were both ranked outside of the top 5 at the end of the regular season, but both won their respective conference tournaments. Wisconsin sat at no. 3 in the country, but lost in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers were out, and the Gators and Tar Heels snatched no. 1 seeds.
It’s still pretty unlikely that Syracuse grabs a no. 1 seed. In addition to winning the ACC Tournament, it would need a ton of “help” from the teams in front of it. Florida and Wichita State are locks at this point. The Shockers finished 34-0, and even if the Gators were to lose their first game in the SEC Tournament, they’d still have a no. 1 seed. Over the last 25 years, the nation’s top ranked team heading into conference tournament week has nailed down a no. 1 seed, regardless of what they’ve done in their respective conference tourneys. The only exception was in 2000, when (at the time) mid-major Cincinnati lost its first game of the Conference-USA tournament. That’s what enabled no. 9 Arizona to sneak in and grab the final no. 1 seed.
So there are still two no. 1 seeds available. Right now, Villanova and Arizona occupy the no. 3 and no. 4 rankings, respectively. The Wildcats will most likely have to go through Doug McDermott and Creighton to win the Big East. And that’s not good news for ‘Nova. The Jays ripped them twice this year, each time by 20+ points. Arizona will not face a ranked team in its Pac-12 Tournament, which would make a lose look even worse.
The remaining teams in front of Syracuse are all in different conferences. #5 Louisville (American), #8 Michigan (Big Ten), #9 San Diego State (Mountain West), and #10 Kansas (Big 12). That means if they all were to lose in their tournaments, no other team would have an upper hand over the Orange.
The odds are not in Syracuse’s favor to secure a no. 1 seed, but even advancing to the ACC Championship game would lock SU in for a no. 2 seed. Win it, and SU might just find itself atop the East Region like it has yearned for all year.
Posted by: Kevin Fitzgerald