- Joe Lunardi, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Here in Bracketville, we're all about breaking new ground. And there's something in this week's bracket -- rather, something not in this week's bracket -- which has never occurred in all the years of Bracketology.
Syracuse ... out. Connecticut ... out. At the same time. From the same bracket. Ouch.
We're talking three of the last eight national championships, folks. These are two programs with Hall of Fame coaches and a recent history rivaled only by North Carolina and Duke. Not since 1997 have both schools missed the NCAA Tournament in the same season.
But it's about to happen unless either the Orange or the Huskies find another gear. And soon.
Syracuse had that gear in January, blitzing through a stretch of wins at Marquette, at Rutgers and over Villanova in the Carrier Dome. At that point, it looked like the Orange were the only team ready to challenge Pitt for Big East supremacy.
We should have seen the slide coming after a narrow escape (at home) over a pretty poor Cincinnati team. Then came a loss at Madison Square Garden to St. John's, followed by another loss at just-OK Louisville. Then Notre Dame -- which couldn't win at South Florida a week later -- dumped 103 points on 'Cuse at the Dome. This week's loss at UConn essentially launched both teams' NIT candidacies.
Syracuse can recover, of course, either in late-season challenges with Georgetown and Villanova or -- as was the case a year ago -- at the Big East tournament. But the Orange are just 5-5 in a sub-standard Big East that is extremely unlikely to send a .500 member to the big dance. Worse, the Orange are 2-6 against teams most likely to be on the at-large board. These are obviously not good numbers.
And UConn, despite knocking off the Orange this year, is in far worse shape. If you throw out the nine mostly useless home wins against sub-150 teams, what have you got? A 6-8 club that is tied for 10th in its conference, 1-5 on the road and 1-6 against NCAA-level teams. If that's a positive at-large profile, I'm Brad Pitt.
We've even gone 400 words into this analysis without mentioning the RPI. Both Syracuse (InsideRPI No. 61 on Wednesday) and, especially, Connecticut (No. 89) are nowhere near the RPI range they need for an at-large bid. Add in the Orange being just 8-8 against Top 150 competition and UConn's dreadful (No. 235) nonconference schedule, and this could be the final time either team -- especially the Huskies -- is included in the same sentence as NCAA Tournament.
All I ask is that you don't shoot the messenger.
Joe Lunardi is the resident bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.