USC Basketball: Dick Vitale Says Syracuse Deserved Bid Over Trojans

Feb 22, 2017; Syracuse, NY, USA; ESPN announcer Dick Vitale greets Syracuse Orange fans prior to the game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2017; Syracuse, NY, USA; ESPN announcer Dick Vitale greets Syracuse Orange fans prior to the game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

ESPN’s Dick Vitale argued that Syracuse was more deserving of an NCAA tournament bid than USC basketball. Here’s why he’s wrong.

USC basketball was one of the last teams to grab a bid to the NCAA tournament on Sunday, set to face Providence in the First Four play-in game on Wednesday.

But not everyone is happy about the Trojans second-consecutive trip to the Big Dance. Among those is ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.

Vitale told FanSided Editorial Director Michael Collins that the Orange deserved USC’s bid:

"“Syracuse won 10 games in the toughest conference of all, and I would have a comparison with Syracuse, and with Southern Cal. Not going to take away from Southern Cal — the Trojans, they won 24 games — but they were 9-8 in their last 17. They have two quality wins, UCLA and the win over SMU. And that’s it. So to me, if I’m on the committee, and I put those resumes next to each other, my choice is Syracuse.”"

If you’re going to compare resumes between USC and Syracuse, you can choose to focus on two things: good wins and bad losses.

Vitale and Syracuse fans want the attention paid to their good wins compared to USC’s. And if you do that, the Orange clearly win the argument.

Syracuse notched wins over Duke, Florida State and Virginia, teams ranked No. 7, 10 and 17 in the official tournament seed ranking.

By comparison, USC’s best wins on the season came over UCLA, ranked No. 11, and SMU, ranked No. 21. It’s not a competition.

But it’s also not the end of the resume.

The selection committee looks at more than just a team’s best wins of the season. They look at a body of work, and it’s there that the Trojans earned their bid over the Orange with steady level throughout the season despite a major injury setback.

USC ranks 41st in RPI. Syracuse ranks 84th, which would have been the worst RPI rank for a tournament team in 20 years, per Deadspin.

Syracuse went 2-8 on the road this season. USC went 6-5. The Trojans five road losses included Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, who are ranked No. 6, 9 and 11, as well as Utah, a team ranked one spot ahead of Syracuse in RPI, and ASU.

Speaking of the Sun Devils, that was by far USC’s worst loss of the season — an unacceptable one which nearly cost them their tournament bid.

ASU finished ranked 124th in RPI, but besides that glaring exception, the Trojans took care of business and beat the teams a squad looking for a tournament bid should have beaten. They didn’t take nights off.

Syracuse could be forgiven for road losses to North Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and even Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. But those aren’t the losses that stand out on their resume. Those aren’t the losses which cost Jim Boeheim’s men a place in the Big Dance.

On the road, the Orange lost to Georgia Tech, who ranks No. 106, and, glaringly, Boston College, a lowly 219th in RPI.

And that’s not the worst of it, because Syracuse also lost home games to RPI-ranked 119th UConn and 107th Georgetown. The cherry on top? A 33-point loss to No. 140 St. John’s at home.

Peruse social media and you’ll find that the biggest gripe against USC’s bid from detractors stems from this stat gem: USC hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since January 25.

That win came against UCLA. Since then, the Trojans only played four games against teams with a winning record — UCLA, twice, Arizona and Oregon, a trio of Top 11 teams. In the remaining seven games, USC went 6-1 over teams in the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings. They beat the teams in front of them.

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Simply put, the best stat to sink the Trojans’ claim to a tournament bid over Syracuse is based around the order in which games were played in the final month of the season, rather than the entire resume of the season.

No team controls their conference schedule, whether that means facing teams ranked in the Top 6 in back-to-back-to-back contests or playing only bottom dwellers in the games preceding and following that gauntlet.

Teams do control their own destiny for the most part. USC put theirs on the line when they collapsed against ASU, but the Trojans also compiled a body of work consisting of 24 wins, despite losing leading scorer Bennie Boatwright for a two month stretch in the middle of the season. They took care of business against the bottom feeders and battled with the juggernauts.

The Orange proved capable of beating the likes of Duke, reaching higher highs, but they also slipped up against the likes of Boston College, dipping in much lower lows far more often than was safe.

Syracuse had three better nights than USC, but the Trojans had the better, steadier resume and it got their ticket punched.