Gators, Tigers and Hoyas, oh my
Fresh off two consecutive NIT quarterfinal appearances, Syracuse will certainly have a schedule filled with opportunities to make statements and play its way into the Big Dance. Only two opponents remain unnamed, with the recent announcement that the Orange has scheduled Cleveland State to fill a slot in the Dome. The ‘Cuse still await word on what two opponents they will face in the opening rounds of the O'Reilly College Basketball Experience (CBE) tournament. The two games will be played in the Carrier Dome, giving the Orange nineteen home games and two exhibitions on its 2008-09 schedule.
Syracuse has a schedule filled with its share of pitfalls, but also an early-season schedule featuring just three games played outside the comfy confines of the Loudhouse. Those three games could pack a lot of punch, however, as they could potentially be against three of the last four schools to play for a national title. Syracuse will take to the road against Memphis just before Christmas and also sandwiches a tough trio of games around Thanksgiving. They will face Florida and possibly Kansas, last year's national champion, on a neutral court in Kansas City. Then, they travel home to finish a home-and-home series with Virginia that began last year in Charlottesville. The ‘Cuse won that game in thrilling fashion, 70-68; unfortunately, it happened to be one of its marquee non-conference victories.
While the rest of Syracuse's non-conference schedule features a few intriguing opponents, it would be nice to see them beef it up a bit. The team has many interesting facets, players both grizzled and fresh. No one can be for sure how they will gel, but one thing is certain: it will pay more dividends down the road to change that Siena game to a game with say, Niagara. And that date with Long Beach State could just as easily have been a home date with Pacific, or one of the more dominant powers in the Big West conference. While tough wins over teams from mid-major conferences don't impress the selection committee, they do build character and that's something this team needs if it's going to make some noise in March this season.
However, credit must also be given where it is due. And the athletic department certainly did its job by lining up a slot in the CBE (which also gives Syracuse two home games the week before the Florida clash) and a road contest with Memphis. Just a few years ago, this would have been unheard of under the Jim Boeheim regime. The Memphis game should do wonders for SU's SOS, RPI and all those other formulas, regardless of the outcome. And one can never underestimate the impact seeing the Orange on national TV will have on the NCAA tourney selection committee. The game is scheduled at a time (6pm on a Saturday right before Christmas) where it will grab many people's attention, much like the Florida-Ohio State home-and-home series has done over the past two seasons.
The Big East schedule features a nasty month-long stretch, beginning with a road game at the MCI Center in our nation's capital. Syracuse will certainly be tested early, often and throughout the entire season.
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