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Full Conference Schedule Released

Perhaps my favorite day of the offseason is when the conference schedule is released. It’s another indication that the season is getting closer, and with every team’s roster essentially set, there’s a good sense of what the conference looks like.

We’ve seen the non-con slate mostly released on a game-by-game basis, a development which feels more recent due to the heightened demand for instant information, but I’m not sure I’m the typical customer in that boat. While I like finding out six months beforehand that Syracuse will play a robust team like Florida, I don’t exactly run to the calendar with a red Sharpie every summer to circle November 19 on the calendar and count the days until SU plays Colgate. Sometimes, part of me prefers for the whole thing to be made public at one time. Just a personal opinion, but I digress.

With the release of the conference schedule, we’re edging towards the first day of practice. It’s also nice to have the full conference slate out so we can take a stab at identifying the most intense stretches and the relative breathers. With one look at the Big East schedule,  you can see a pretty significant gap in competition as the calendar turns from January to February. Without further ado:

  • Wednesday, Dec. 28 vs. Seton Hall
  • Sunday, Jan. 1 @ DePaul
  • Wednesday, Jan. 4 @ Providence
  • Saturday, Jan. 7 vs. Marquette
  • Wednesday, Jan. 11 @ Villanova
  • Saturday, Jan. 14 vs. Providence
  • Monday, Jan. 16 vs. Pittsburgh*
  • Saturday, Jan. 21 @ Notre Dame
  • Monday, Jan. 23 @ Cincinnati*
  • Saturday, Jan. 28 vs. West Virginia
  • Saturday, Feb. 4 @ St. John’s
  • Wednesday, Feb. 8 vs. Georgetown
  • Saturday, Feb. 11 vs. Connecticut (CBS)**
  • Monday, February 13 @ Louisville*
  • Sunday, February 19 @ Rutgers
  • Wednesday, February 22 vs. USF
  • Saturday, February 25 @ Connecticut
  • Saturday, March 3 vs. Louisville
*Big Monday games
**I miss Gus Johnson.

You could basically chop the conference schedule into halves, calling December and January the easier portion while things pick up quickly in February. January features five road games, and while I think Cincinnati will be quietly improved, I’d be surprised to see the Orange having a ton of trouble with any of those teams, save the Wildcats. As for the home games in that time, Pittsburgh has been the itch that Syracuse hasn’t been able to scratch over the last several years, and Bob Huggins seems to squeeze the most out of his teams on a regular basis. The point remains, though – if you showed SU’s January schedule to someone who doesn’t follow the team closely, there wouldn’t be a ton for that person to get excited about. Part of the reason for the tepid January is due to the networks’ deference to bowl games and the NFL playoffs, and another part is due to the need for many facilities to navigate around other commitments.

The temperature heats up significantly as the team enters Feburary, though. Madison Square Garden may be like a second home considering the ‘Cuse alumni base in New York City, but the job Steve Lavin has done in resurrecting St. John’s from figures to shift the ratio of orange to red in the stands. The season reaches a boiling point starting with the following game against the Hoyas, and from February 11 through the season’s end, Syracuse will play an intense four games against Louisville and Connecticut, with a break against South Florida.

Unlike last season, when the knock was that the Big East was a pool of very-good-but-not-great teams, the top of the conference in 2011-12 will feature a trio of national title contenders. UConn’s recent addition of Andre Drummond (sketchy as it is) means that all three teams could be ranked in the top ten nationally, and you don’t need to tell Jim Boeheim about his recent struggles against Rick Pitino and the Cardinals. It’s also a good assumption that Syracuse, Connecticut and Louisville will be jockeying for first place in the Big East, so I think the final segment will make for an exciting race down the stretch and also get us good and ready for the postseason.

When the matchups were first released over the summer, Syracuse’s repeat opponents were listed as Connecticut, Louisville and Providence. At the time, I considered the combination as one good team (UConn), one great team (Louisville), and a Providence team that would be building. Since that time, Connecticut picked up Drummond, and with him, a few spots on most experts’ preseason Top 25 rankings, Ed Cooley picked up Kris Dunn, the nation’s top incoming point guard, and Louisville holds steady.

Tipoff may be ten weeks away, but the release of the schedule gets me just as excited for things to get rolling.

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