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Syracuse maybe NCAA worthy, but deserves no breaks for suspension

February 15, 2016 Columns No Comments

One supposes that, in a college basketball season tossed upside down on a regular basis, it’s only fitting that this year’s NCAA Tournament is likely to include the first school to get a reward for going on probation.

Such is the case at Syracuse, where the NCAA deemed violations under coach Jim Boeheim’s watch to be so serious that it suspended him for nine games this season as part of sanctions against the school. And now, the selection committee has decided Syracuse essentially deserves extra credit for losses that occurred during those sanctions.

What a country!

The NCAA selection committee recently reiterated to multiple sources (such as here and here) that the Orange will be evaluated separately for their games with Jim Boeheim on the bench and those without. Syracuse-A and Syracuse-B. This is notable because Syracuse-B went 4-5 in games without Boeheim, but Syracuse-A is currently 14-3 when he is present.

This doesn’t mean Syracuse gets a complete pass for its five losses under Mike Hopkins. It does mean, though, that the selection committee will treat those games under Hopkins just as if the Orange had an injury, something that affected their performance negatively through nothing they had control of.

Only in college sports.

Syracuse had every bit of control over not getting sanctioned by the NCAA-it just had to follow the rules. In fact, Boeheim was cited specifically by the NCAA for failure to “promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program and did not monitor the activities of those who reported to him as they related to academics and booster involvement.”

Exact words in quotation marks.

Whatever Boeheim’s particular role was or wasn’t, or no matter how much one agrees or disagrees with the sanctions, those are the findings from the governing body that Syracuse is a willing participant under. It could even be argued the NCAA went nice. It has heard the cries of less punishment for the “innocent kids”, more punishing coaches, so it complied.

And yet, because the Orange posted a losing record without their coach on the bench-again, the result of sanctions the program earned-they deserve special consideration for extenuating circumstances?

Outrageous. And frankly, it’s frustrating this somehow seems like a bother only to us. Something so clearly wrong has generated nothing but crickets from much college basketball media. Hmmm…

(What if they were wins? Does Syracuse then get diminished in the selection process because its interim coach was winning? You know the answer to that.)

Look, we’ll say it every day of the week: the NCAA sometimes takes more flak than it deserves. Many take the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel method of blaming “the NCAA” for every problem in college sports, because it’s easier to blame a perceived bureaucracy than it is to blame individuals, or one’s alma mater, or favorite school. It wins on Twitter. It’s not an in-depth understanding of where problems really come from.

NCAA rules are made up by schools. If one doesn’t like something the NCAA is doing, they probably can blame it on the schools influencing what their association stands for.

That said, this is an NCAA selection committee decision, which means that the NCAA takes the blame. And deservedly so.

The thing is, Syracuse shouldn’t even need the help. Its overall profile right now probably makes it a reasonably safe NCAA tourney team. A 6-4 mark against the top 50 right now would look pretty good on Selection Sunday, as would just one sub-100 loss (most “bubble” teams will have more). That 2-5 road record is weak, but probably not enough to keep them out at this point.

Moreover, there is still plenty of time for the Boeheim Orange to recover from any losses by the Boeheim-less Orange. If Syracuse is an NCAA Tournament team, just beat Pittsburgh and N.C. State at home and get one or two of their three road games at Louisville, North Carolina and Florida State. A minimum of 21 wins and 7-8 top 50 wins, even with an early loss in the ACC Tournament, would almost certainly not just clinch an at-large bid, but probably a seed in the 8-10 range, maybe better.

This entire situation illustrates once again why the consideration of injuries, illnesses, suspensions or anything else related to game-to-game personnel changes in teams, needs to be eliminated from the selection criteria.

We already know the injury consideration will always be prone to favoring the most prominent injuries to the most prominent teams. Because of that and so much more, it is simply impossible for selection committee members to fairly evaluate every single injury or circumstance that went into a result.

Trying to do so results in an inane amount of subjectivity. Did Syracuse really lose to St. John’s because Jim Boeheim was out? What about the Johnnies’ Felix Balamou-the team’s top guard off the bench at the time-missing all but three minutes with an injury. If he’s healthy, maybe SJU wins by 18, not 12?

Was Mike Hopkins solely responsible for the Orange getting hammered on the glass in Madison Square Garden? If the committee is essentially putting this on Hopkins, shouldn’t it also give credit that the Cuse committed just six turnovers in that game, far below the 13.7 the Orange average in games with Boeheim on the bench?

See how ridiculous this gets, and how quickly? The best way to not worry about it is to not worry about it. ‘Evaluate the results we have, not ones we think we might’ve gotten if X, Y and Z had happened.

Syracuse may well be an NCAA Tournament team this year. In fact, if we were doing a selection now, we’d have the Orange in, and fairly easily.

Let’s not be mistaken, though. Syracuse is one team this season. Not two.

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam
E-mail: hoopvilleadam@yahoo.com

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