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Syracuse Needed To Be Humbled, Right?

A statistical analysis of whether teams really get "hungrier" after losing.

Syracuse lost last night to Cincinnati in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, and all the haters (hi Digger) came out of the woodwork. Jim Boeheim and Scoop Jardine went into defense-mode, preaching that the only results that matter are in the NCAA Tournament - which is true, to some extent. Coaches and teams nowadays are definitely judged by their performance in the big dance way more than during the regular season or conference tournaments.

When I woke up this morning, I did my usual Facebook news feed check (embarrassing). All my friends from Syracuse were basically saying the same thing - that the loss was good for the Orange, and that they needed a "reality check" going into the NCAAs. I feel that Syracuse fans (myself included) have had this auto-response ready all year long, should the Orange lose. We knew that at some point, the law of averages would catch up to us and we'd lose a close game - we were just hoping it wouldn't come in the real tournament. But is there any truth to the theory that losing a game right before the NCAA Tournament can be a good thing?

Let's look at Syracuse's exact situation, assuming they are awarded a #1 seed tomorrow. In the past ten seasons (a decent sample size), 26 of the 40 #1 seeds won their conference tournaments, leaving 14 that were given an at-large #1. On the surface, the statistics seem to support the theory. Of the 26 conference champions, only three (Florida '07, Kansas '08, Duke '10) won the National Championship. Of the 14 at-large bids, there are also three (Maryland '02, North Carolina '05, North Carolina '09) National Champions, meaning (math majors applaud) that there is a higher percentage of title-winners from the at-large crowd. The theory also holds up well when looking at the percentage of teams reaching at least the Final Four (50% vs. 31%), Elite Eight (86% vs. 62%) and Sweet Sixteen (93% vs. 85%).

Here's the bad news. The teams from our conference are actually bringing down the numbers. Of the seven teams reaching the Final Four as #1 at-large bids, only Connecticut's '09 squad came from the Big East. For those keeping track, this means that six of the eight #1 at-large bids from other conferences reached the Final Four, compared to just one of six from the Big East.

I'm not hating on the Big East here - I know that three of the past ten National Champions (Syracuse '03, Connecticut '04, Connecticut '11) have come from the conference. None of those teams were #1 seeds, which is interesting in itself - Florida's '06 team is the only other non-#1 seed to win the tournament in the past ten years. Oddly enough, it seems that the Big East's success has mostly come from it's #2 and #3 seeds - though it's hard to pinpoint why that's the case. Obviously, statistics never tell the whole story. We all know that Arinze Onuaku's injury in 2010 and Nasir Robinson's untimely foul in 2011 prove that there is an element of luck involved. Either of those teams was good enough to cut down the nets, it just didn't work out that way. It's always easy to look back at the bracket, see when teams lost and say they underachieved.

So Syracuse, even with a 31-2 record, will be trying to buck the trend and become just the second #1 seed from the Big East in the past ten years to reach the Final Four. Here's to making history, even if nobody realizes it.