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Don’t Fear The Double-Bye

If Jim Boeheim were to put out a “Greatest Hits” record featuring some of his most well-known quotes, there’d be plenty of moments from which to pick (there would also be a healthy collection of cover art options). There’s “The best team didn’t win tonight,” “Without Gerry McNamara, we wouldn’t have won ten (something-something) games,” “you don’t know your business” and much, much, more! The latest subject of Boeheim’s ire is the double-bye in the Big East Tournament, as he called it “The worst thing ever invented” after his team clinched the long break by beating UConn in Storrs.

Me? I don’t think it’s that bad at all – in fact, I kind of like it.

I will concede that the math is on Jim Boeheim’s side in this one if we’re speaking about the postseason, but a major caveat is that the sample size is limited to just 12 teams. In the short history of the double-bye in the Big East Tournament – just three years – Syracuse has held two double-byes, going 1-2 in the conference tournament and flaming out in The Big Dance before the second weekend. Digging deeper, the early exits haven’t just impacted the Orange. All four Big East teams to earn the double-bye at Madison Square Garden last season failed to make it to the Sweet 16, with Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse all dropping early. In fact, six of the last eight double-bye recipients couldn’t crack the Sweet 16.

Still, that’s an awfully small sample size, and we don’t know what the correlation really is. That Boeheim himself fielded one of the exceptions (in 2009) while the other made it exactly where this season’s team is aiming for (West Virginia in 2010) casts enough doubt for me to resist the results as gospel. We also know that the Orange had the look of a Final Four team in 2010 until an unfortunate injury to Arinze Onuaku derailed national title hopes, so there is some noise in the numbers in the last two years. If you focus instead on the first year of the double-bye, Louisville advanced to the Elite 8 in 2009 and Villanova won a pair of games after watching the first two round of the Big East Tournament from afar. At the very least, we don’t know for sure if a straight-line correlation can be drawn between the double-bye and postseason success  – there just hasn’t been enough evidence to rule absolutely.

The other perceived knock on the double-bye is the idea that going without game action for five days somehow keeps the team tight. But in a much larger sample size, the math doesn’t add up. Last season, the Orange won its quarterfinal game against St. John’s on five days of rest. Lengthy breaks have actually been very generous to Syracuse in recent seasons – since the start of the 2009 season, the Orange are 31-5 when playing on four or more days of rest, including a 17-1 mark the last two years. Before doing the research, one assumption I had is that games around the holidays, which fall during the non-conference season, may bloat the numbers due to the opposition, but Syracuse has actually played some quality teams in those situations, such as Iona, NC State, Michigan and Florida – and beat them all. It seems to me that the bugaboo of the double-bye has been overblown by one freak injury and a UConn run unlike anything college basketball has ever seen.

This season, there’s no doubting that the Orange have the horses to win three games in three days before resting for a few more after Selection Sunday. The rotation appears to be set at its usual 7.5-man staff after flirting with ten, but unlike previous seasons, that doesn’t mean more players aren’t capable of making an impact. Beyond C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters, We continue to see flashes from James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams, and despite his numerous shortcomings, Baye Keita can fill in capably if presented with the right matchup and at least has last season to cling to as evidence that he’s done it before. Three games in three days may be abnormal, and if they’re not close games that allow Boeheim to utilize the entirety of his vaunted bench, endurance can definitely be tested at Madison Square Garden.

But if the Orange lose this week, it won’t be because they sat around too long.

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