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Big East Hoops Slate Announced

The announcement of the Big East conference slate always gets me going. Even though we have to wait until the facilities and the NBA sort things out before the dates and order are settled, this point marks the first sign that college basketball is awakening, although tipoff doesn’t come for another four months. I’ve mentioned my disdain for the unbalanced schedule in the past, but at the same time, I understand its necessity given the current structure and enormous size of the conference.

But if the conference is going to roll with an unbalanced schedule and have three repeat matchups, how can the Big East justify scheduling just one Georgetown-Syracuse tilt? While the collective strength of the conference makes it a national juggernaut, this rivalry played a big role in putting the Big East on the map. Even though both schools have experienced lulls, the intensity has generally stayed at a level that ought to warrant two battles in the regular season. Alas, this season will mark the first time since the conference schedule expanded to 18 games in the 2006-2007 season that the Orange and Hoyas will meet just once in the Big East slate. Most experts don’t expect Georgetown to contend for the conference title with Chris Wright and Austin Freeman having graduated, and perhaps the biggest factor in deciding the repeat matchups involves maximizing the number of games between the best teams in the conference, which begs the question of what the powers that be think of the Hoyas’ chances. While I don’t necessarily disagree, the national draw of the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry makes the omission of a second game highly questionable in my eyes.

As for the other home-and-homes, the conference gave SU two clashes with Louisville, Connecticut and Providence, a set that is arguably the toughest in the Big East. Despite what he says, the Cardinals are Jim Boeheim’s white whale. With two opportunities to quiet critics, it becomes increasingly important for Boeheim to top his old assistant. Louisville figures to hover around the top ten nationally, and will definitely be a contender for the top spot in the conference. The team’s only casualty from last season is Preston Knowles, and in addition to a superb recruiting class led by Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware, the Cardinals will have transfer Tony Woods, a center formerly of Wake Forest, eligible for the spring semester. Louisville will be tested all season, with non-con games against Kentucky, Memphis and Vanderbilt, and two games against Pitt in Big East play. We’re used to hearing people claim that it’s not important to have a noteworthy non-conference schedule when you play in the Big East, but apparently Rick Pitino disagrees.

Even though the Big East nerve center came up short in giving Syracuse and Georgetown just one game against one another, they did the next-best thing and scheduled Syracuse in two games against defending national champion UConn, even if it is a no-brainer. The Huskies will remain a force even without Kemba Walker, if the play of Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi in the final stages of last season is any indication. Throw in the flaky but supremely talented DeAndre Daniels and a fortunate draw with four games against a retooling Notre Dame and a Seton Hall squad without Jeremy Hazell and Jim Calhoun’s team could have it made. As for Providence, the Friars look set to toil in the dregs of the standings with Marshon Brooks gone as new head coach Ed Cooley gets introduced to the Big East.

The opponents which visit the Dome and who SU plays on the road break down thusly:

Home: Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, USF, West Virginia.

Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, St. John’s, Villanova.

Upon review, the selection is very favorable to Syracuse. The Orange’s home schedule consists of opponents who are either fixtures in the top half of the conference or could plausibly finish there, plus USF, Seton Hall and Providence. On the road, SU gets UConn and Louisville, which comes with the nature of the home-and-away series. Outside of those two games, Villanova looks like the most challenging road opponent, and SU beat ‘Nova on the road last season. While Notre Dame was a surprise team last season, they’re due to fall after turning over a ton of key players, and that’s before getting into Carleton Scott’s surprise draft declaration.

St. John’s was a surprise in 2011, and they made huge waves on the recruiting trail, but it will take time for Steve Lavin to settle on his best rotation with his posse of freshmen coming in. The Red Storm have the look of a team that could struggle early and be much better towards the end of the season, so even though the Orange has a big fan presence at Madison Square Garden, I’ll have to withhold final judgment until the dates are announced closer to the start of the season.

At first glance, the home/road breakdown of next season’s schedule looks balanced, but once you get past the road games mandated by the repeat matchups, it looks a little more favorable to the ‘Cuse. As we find out more about the schedule around the start of the academic year, we’ll be able to make more concrete judgments.

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