There is no kinder way to say it: The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee screwed Syracuse, period. This is the first time a Big East team has won more than 60% of its conference games (10-6) and 20+ overall without getting an NCAA bid. The arguments against Syracuse are flat-out stupid (this means you Stewart Mandel of SI.com): unbalanced conference schedule and "weak" nonconference schedule. Here's why:
(1) SU filled much of its nonconference slate with decent teams: Holy Cross (Patriot League champ), Penn (Ivy champ), Drexel and Hofstra of the CAA, Oklahoma State, and Wichita State (a preseason top-25 team). SU was leaderless for much of December thanks to Devendorf's illness and personal tragedies, thus the team lost to Ok. State, Wichita St. and Drexel. SU pounded Hofstra, HC and beat Penn. Not terrible, certainly not great, and DEFINITELY not the low-end quality of what Georgetown used to schedule under John Thompson pere. The preconference schedule looked worse as the year went on because Ok. State went through the floor and Wichita State, which rose as high as #8 in the ESPN rankings, cratered.
(2) SU usually gets one of the toughest conference schedules in the Big East. The reason is simple: SU is currently one of the two marquee teams in the conference (UConn is the other; G'Town, Louisville and Pitt are a half-step below -- this is because UConn and SU are the only Big East teams to reach the Final Four since 1989 [Louisville's run in '05 was as a C-USA member]) . Because the Big East is so large (16 teams) and the conference wants to keep certain rivalries alive, each team plays 13 others and does not play two teams. Thus, SU played 10 teams once, and three teams twice each. The three home-and-home teams that the conference assigned SU were St. John's (a stiff, but the New York rival), UConn (a preseason top 10 team) and Villanova (a preseason top 15 team). UConn and 'Nova each landed #1 seeds in the 2006 tourney and no one expected big dropoffs. Thus, before the season, SU had a tough conference schedule.
(3) SU creamed Georgetown and won at Marquette. Those are two very good wins. SU is 5-6 against NCAA Tourney teams; in 2003, SU went 5-4 against NCAA Tourney teams before going 6-0 in the Tournament. This year's team also won at the end of the season, a fact the Committee once used as a factor in selections and for good reason -- a team that stumbles down the stretch after a great start is simply not that strong because those late season games are the tough conference contests. In 2002, SU started 16-3 then faltered thanks to Preston Schumpert's eye injury. At 20-11, the 2002 team was the first Big East team to surpass .500 in the conference (9-7), win 20 and not get an NCAA bid. Coach Boeheim even understands the logic behind the '02 snub (although he confused it with the not-quite bubble team that whiffed in '97 and tanked out of the NIT quickly).
(4) There are four teams that do not deserve a bid over Syracuse or the other two teams who are the most egregious snubs, Drexel (which beat both SU AND Villanova on the road) and K-State (note: Texas Tech over K-State is easy: TTech beat A&M twice). Those teams are Stanford, Illinois, Arkansas and Purdue.
Arkansas (21-13) is the low-hanging fruit of the group: 7-9 in the weak SEC West (each SEC division plays the teams in its division twice and the teams in the opposite division once), a complete beating from Florida in the SEC title game and its best win was at 20-11 Vandy. Arkansas lost BIG to a weak Missouri team and had no other interesting wins. A run through the poor sisters of the SEC to the conference title game should not overcome a 13-loss season. This is an NIT squad, period.
Illinois (23-11) has nothing to favor it over SU. Unlike SU, which whomped its conference champion, Illinois could not compete with OSU or Wisconsin. The Illins put up all of 41 points in their Big Ten Tourney loss to Wisco. The pre-conference schedule included a bunch of high school quality teams (look at the Illins' first five) before losing to uninspiring Arizona and inconsistent Maryland. Illinois also went only 9-7 in the Big Tenplusone despite only facing Wisco and OSU once each. The Illini went 5-0 against the conference's three worst teams, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State, during the regular season. That means the Illins had an easy conference schedule and barely broke past .500. If they received a nod because they topped Michigan State in the conference table, why didn't SU receive a bid after topping Villanova (#9 seed in the Big East Tourney) and Marquette in the Big East?
Stanford (18-12) came out of the inconsistent Pac-10 (with three overseeded teams: Wazzou , USC and Oregon), lost 4 of its last 5, lost by 34 to Air Force and by 16 to Santa Clara -- both non-Tourney teams, both losses at home -- and got dumped at home by Cal. One win over UCLA shouldn't overturn those ignominies. This is simply a middling team that played its way off the bubble.
Both Stanford's and Arkansas' coaches would have lost their jobs but for the NCAA bids; SU and K-State were going to have the same coach next year no matter what. Sense a trend? Since when is it the job of the Committee to save the positions of bubble coaches?
Purdue (21-11) is the best case of the four, but still not great. The Boilermakers went 0-for-4 against OSU and Wisco, went only 9-7 in the Big Tenplusone and did that primarily by playing the three worst teams in the league twice each (Minnesota [1-1], Penn State [2-0] and Northwestern [2-0]). SU only had three games against the Big East's four worst teams, and won them. How's that for unbalanced conference schedules and looking beyond just the record in the conference, Stewart? The Boilers were 4-6 against the BigTenplusone's decent-or-better squads and is in the NCAA. Purdue's best win doesn't come close to whupping Georgetown. The Boilers are a #9 seed -- can you really say SU isn't a 10 or 11?
Ultimately, SU would have been in with any of the following: A UConn win at GaTech earlier this year, holding the 14-point second-half lead it had at Louisville, squeaking past Notre Dame in the Big East Tourney, or tweaking either 'Nova or St. John's on the road. But it should have been in anyway.
No Big East Conference rep was on the Selection Committee. Craig Littlepage, the Virginia AD who did such an awful job with last year's selections was a member, the UCLA and Ohio State ADs were on the Committee, and so was the commissioner of the SEC. (Thanks, Kim). Makes it harder to leave off stinkbombs like Arkansas, Stanford and Illinois and the iffy first-round ACC tourney honking Ga.Teck if you're stuck in a room for a weekend with your buddies from their conferences, don't it?
Simply stated, SU got shafted. The Committee's decision is indefensible. The Monk's only solace is that after SU took it on the chin in '02, it recharged the next season with the #1 recruit in the nation, a top freshman point guard, new energy and a beautiful run through the Tourney. Next year, SU has the #1 power forward, a top point guard recruit and hopefully new energy up front. That would ease the pain of this travesty. Somewhat.
UPDATE: this is worse than I thought. Stanford's RPI was 65, SU's was 51. Ga. Tech lost twice to Wake, had a lower RPI and lower strength-of-schedule than SU, and lost its first round (pre-quarterfinals) ACC Tourney game -- usually that's a deathblow for a bubble team; and Purdue LOST to Minnesota (corrected above). SU's three best wins were against RPI top 25 teams.
The number crunching geeks at The Bracket Project checked 30 "bracketology" sites -- 29 had SU in the Tourney, usually as a #10 seed -- that's not ultra-borderline, the 12's and 11's are. Only 5 had Arkansas, 13 had Stanford, 21 had Purdue and 23 had the Illins. Even Joe Lunardi, who tends to be anti-SU in his seedings, had the Orange as a #10 against Butler (an overseed by the Committee as a #5).
I'm pretty disgusted now.