Why Syracuse (and not Notre Dame) snuck into NCAA Tournament

Why Syracuse (and not Notre Dame) snuck into NCAA Tournament

For the third straight year, Syracuse sat firmly on the bubble. For the second time, Jim Boeheim found a way to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

Despite posting a losing record in the ACC and dropping seven of its final 12 games, Syracuse (20-13) avoided missing back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for just the third time in four decades, and snatched the final spot in the Big Dance, according to Bruce Rasmussen, the chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

The Orange will play Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, against Bobby Hurley and Arizona State (20-11), while UCLA (21-11) and St. Bonaventure (25-7) claimed the other final at-large bids.

Syracuse was in jeopardy of heading back to the NIT after producing just four Quadrant 1 wins and terrible losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, but the Orange’s 18th-ranked strength of schedule and late wins over Louisville, Miami, and Clemson were enough to convince the committee.

The NCAA Tournament also added star power, by adding Oklahoma (18-13), and Trae Young — the superstar freshman, who led the nation in scoring and assists — surviving a 6-12 finish and fall from the top-five earlier in the season.

“We look at the entire body of work. The games in November count the same as games in February and March,” Rasmussen said. “We know they stumbled down the stretch, and that certainly affected their seeding, but they had enough on their resume to get in.”

Notre Dame was in line to extend its streak of seven straight NCAA Tournament berths, but was bounced from the field when Davidson removed an at-large berth after completing its surprising Atlantic 10 Tournament run Sunday afternoon.

The Irish were put in the precarious position after losing ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Bonzie Colson for two months with a broken foot. Before he got hurt, Notre Dame (20-14) went 11-3, and also beat NCAA Tournament teams such as Wichita State, Florida State, Virginia Tech and NC State.

“Notre Dame was a unique situation,” Rasmussen said. “They just didn’t enough on their résumé to get in as an at-large, even with Bonzie.”

Louisville was among the most notable exclusions, failing to reach — when eligible — the tournament for the first time since 2006.

The Cardinals were the highest-ranked RPI team (39), among the power conferences, to be left from the bracket, after going 5-13 against teams in Quadrant 1 and 2.

Oklahoma State (19-14) and USC (23-11) also ended up on the outside, and like Louisville, have been linked to the FBI’s corruption probe.

Powerful mid-majors Saint Mary’s (28-5), and Middle Tennessee State (24-7), both paid for their lack of quality wins. The Gaels picked up their only noteworthy win at Gonzaga, while the Blue Raiders missed opportunities against Auburn, USC and Miami.

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