All signs pointed to Syracuse playing in the First Four. Beating Virginia, instead of a close loss, seemed important. Georgetown and Oregon State’s runs to automatic bids was problematic. Every bracketologist seemed to place SU in the “Last Four In” group.
But Selection Sunday threw us yet another curveball and SU gets to avoid the First Four and head directly to the Round of 64 against San Diego State. Even the CBS studio crew of Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis seemed surprised, so what happened?
Good wins? Well, SU beat that Georgetown team but the Hoyas are still only a 12-seed despite winning the Big East Tourney, so that’s not all that special. Beating then #17 Virginia Tech was a good win (10-seed). Sweeping NC State three times was key, which kept the Pack out of the Big Dance. But the biggest victory of them all was over UNC to save the season (8-seed) on March 1st.
The resume wasn’t all that impressive, but the committee may have given Jim Boeheim some veteran’s credit. The Orange have lived on the bubble for years. For the last seven seasons, SU has been around .500 in the ACC, annually earning between a 6 and 10-seed in the league tourney. Four times in that span Syracuse has made the tournament (including last year’s canceled bracket). In two of those previous three trips, SU danced into the second weekend. In ’16, the Orange surged all the way to the Final Four.
Look at some of the other credit handed Hall of Fame coaches. Tom Izzo got in as a First Four squad. Jay Wright nabbed a 5-seed despite losing in the Big East semis and having major injury questions. Kansas looked meek during the regular season, but Bill Self earned a 3-seed. The committee looked favorably on the veteran coaches. Syracuse’s recent success in the tourney, turning it on when it mattered most, likely helped slot them in the Big Dance. Their reputation preceded them, which was a good thing this time around.