Syracuse isn’t a Cinderella in a typical sense, but there’s no denying that the Orange are one of the most unlikely Final Four participants in recent memory.
Considered a bubble team by most, the 13-loss Orange entered the NCAA tournament with a mere 0.85 percent chance to make the Final Four by ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which is about the same chance they were given by the public filling out their brackets on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.
At first glance, those percentages might have even seemed high; the Orange were 9-9 in conference play and were defeated by Pittsburgh (for a third time this season) in the first round of the ACC tournament. Having lost five of its final six games, Syracuse entered the tournament with little momentum and a brutal path through the Midwest region.
Now, after the Orange mounted a historic comeback against Virginia to become the fourth double-digit seed to advance to the Final Four, many are saying this is the worst Final Four team ever.
How do the Orange stack up among the worst Final Four teams in history?
Based on Ken Pomeroy’s pre-tournament rankings, Syracuse (41st in the rankings) is the third-worst team in the past 15 seasons to make the Final Four. Only 2011 Butler (45th) and 2011 VCU (78th) had a lower ranking entering the tournament.
Other systems allow for Syracuse to be compared to teams even further back.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s pre-tournament NCAA Elo ratings, a simple system that estimates each team’s skill level using only the final scores and locations of each game, Syracuse is the third-worst team to make the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. FiveThirtyEight also notes that 40 other teams entered the 2016 NCAA tournament with better Elo Ratings than the Orange.
Comparatively, Basketball Reference’s SRS system, which is similar to Elo but in this case includes tournament games played, pins Syracuse as the only the seventh-worst Final Four team behind 2011 VCU, 2011 Butler, 1985 Villanova, 2006 George Mason, 2010 Butler and 2013 Wichita State.
No matter how you slice it, Syracuse is not the worst team ever to make a Final Four but certainly is one of the weaker ones. Given that the Orange nearly missed the tournament and then mounted improbable comebacks in the final 10 minutes of both of their past two games, they might be one of the most unlikely teams to make the Final Four but certainly are not the worst.