The most baffling thing about the Selection Committee is that they seem to change their criteria every few years. In 1997, when the Orange missed the tournament, we were all told that SU had loaded up on too many non-conference cupcake/low-RPI teams. So the Orange made the requisite adjustments to add more mid-level RPI teams, but in 2002 they were told by the selection committee that they were left out because they finished the season poorly (4-9 in last 13 games). So, this year, they finish out with 6 wins in their last 8 games, but it is not held to their advantage. Meanwhile, teams like Stanford, Duke (4-7 in last 11), and Michigan State (1-3 in last 4), are limping into the tourney.
This is not to say that the Orange had a stellar season, but they are certainly playing better than a team like Stanford (18-12 overall), which lost 4 of its last 5 games. The Cardinal was beaten by double digits 6 times this year, didn't leave California until January 7th, and lost their last 5 conference road games. Granted, they had a big out-of-conference road win at Virginia, but the rest of their "quality" victories match up closely with SU's, as they beat UCLA, Washington State, Texas Tech, and Oregon all at home. Syracuse also did not have a single loss as bad as Stanford's 34-point drubbing at the hands of Air Force or their 16-point loss to Santa Clara.
Taking a look at Arkansas's resume, they posted two non-conference wins of note, beating Southern Illinois and West Virginia. However, they lost to 2 BCS league teams on the road (Missouri and Texas), and were drubbed by Texas Tech at home. Still, the fact that they played these teams seems to count for something.
Within SEC play, Arkansas went 7-9 in the regular season, then made a nice run in the postseason tournament before getting clobbered by Florida in the finals. Even so, they finished 10-10 against SEC competition, so the implication is that Big East simply did not stack up against the other perennial power conferences this year.
Which brings me to the New (Bloated) Big East. It seems to me that the NCAA simply does no want to see that graphic up on CBS that says: Big East (X bids). The committee has done nothing to compensate for the size of the league – inviting only 38% of the teams to compete in the NCAAs. Contrast this with other major conferences that often get > 50% of their teams in… the size of the league is an obvious detriment.
One of the major difficulties that the NCAA selection committee faces in evaluating Big East teams is the unbalanced schedule. In a season such as '06-07, the Orange suffered by having 2 home & away opponents that simply were not as good as projected (UConn and St. Johns). Basically, you're asking for trouble whenever you're relying on the Selection Committee to determine how our 10-6 record matches up with another team's 10-6 record.
In the end, if you cannot rely on your conference record to get you in, then the non-conference performance because extremely important. This is where SU was done in. Syracuse had two costly home loses to mid-majors Wichita State and Drexel. Moreover, the Orange failed to play a true road game of consequence, as their loss to Oklahoma State came on a neutral court (MSG).
The take-home message here is make sure your home games are winnable unless you are playing a BCS league opponent, and get out on the road and play some big named teams. You don't even really have to beat them, as Arkansas proved, you just have to play the game and garner the RPI benefits and show the committee you aren't afraid to playing the type of team's you'll encounter in the NCAA tourney.
Hopefully, this message will be conveyed loud and clear next season and Syracuse will make the required scheduling changes. Until then, we've got South Alabama at 7PM Wednesday night in the Dome to worry about. It's not the NCAAs, but it's something…