Big East Sets Conference Schedule
I don’t know about you, but for me, the annual release of the conference schedule is always a special occasion (probably irrationally so). Of course, this year’s release has a little more meaning since this season will mark Syracuse’s last as a member of the Big East conference. For instance, more attention than usual is paid to when, where and how many times the Orange will play Georgetown and who the last home game will come against. Everything’s just a touch more magnified than normal.
Because sometimes you need an obscenely premature Big East season preview, I’ve taken a few minutes to break down the matchups months in advance…
January 2 vs. Rutgers – Mike Rice is still cobbling a competitive team together, but it won’t be there quite this soon. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of depth questions and my inclination is that Rice will still be juggling the rotation in early January, whereas the Orange appear to have just one starting spot in question (small forward) as things stand right now.
January 6 at South Florida – Maybe it’s because I’m more cautious than most on things like this, but the semi-annual road trip to USF gives always me a little pause, though never enough to predict a loss. This season, the Orange have several players adjusting to new roles after the team lost four regulars from 2011-12, so the first week in January doesn’t seem like the most ideal part of the schedule for the season’s longest one-game road trip. It will be interesting to see whether Stan Heath tries to run his offense like Bo Ryan again in the wake of the Bulls’ Sweet 16 run last season.
January 9 at Providence – SU’s trips to the Dunk always seem like an adventure, don’t they? Last season, SU needed a big run keyed by a sharpshooting Brandon Triche to gain separation, and the two prior trips to Providence before that have been high-scoring affairs. The Friars were dealt a huge blow when it was announced yesterday that Ricky Ledo will miss the season. Another vaunted freshman, Kris Dunn, may not play until December, so this will be a thin team led by Vincent Council trying to do it all yet again.
January 12 vs. Villanova – The Wildcats’ disaster of a season in 2011-12 wasn’t predicted by many, and with Dom Cheek and Maalik Wayns having bolted early, Villanova is another team trying to resolve depth and experience issues, specifically in its backcourt. That’s not something I ever thought I would say about a Jay Wright team.
January 19 at Louisville – As if it weren’t already tough playing three of four conference games on the road in January, the stretch is topped off by a notorious headache of a team in Louisville, who by the way will enter the season as the country’s top-ranked team, depending on the source. Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Jared Swopshire are finally all gone (they can’t hurt us anymore), but a talented frontcourt remains intact – for now – and guarding Peyton Siva might be Michael Carter-Williams’ toughest test to date. Something tells me the Orange will need all week to prep for the Cardinals.
January 21 vs. Cincinnati – The first of three two-day turnarounds also has the Orange playing an odd Monday afternoon game in observance of Martin Luther King Day, though the same holds true for Cincinnati, which will be coming off a Saturday home game against Marquette themselves. Mick Cronin’s team will once again feature a defensively stout frontcourt, but without Yancy Gates, it will be the team’s perimeter play doing most of the heavy lifting on offense.
January 26 at Villanova – I covered Villanova above, but an 11am start in Philadelphia could make for a less-than-raucous road environment. All told, you can call the season’s first month tough for including a span with four of six games on the road and three Sweet 16 teams, or you can call it merely challenging since it also includes three tilts against squads that missed the NCAA Tournament. Both are valid arguments.
February 2 at Pittsburgh – Hey, another road game – neat! Syracuse
gets a head start on ACC play returns to to the Pete, site of one of the guttiest efforts in a Syracuse loss that I can remember. Of course, since that game two years ago, the Orange and Panthers went in completely opposite directions. If Villanova’s season can be classified as a disaster (it can), there aren’t many words that would be appropriate for the campaign Pitt had. Transfer guard Trey Ziegler, who was granted a waiver to play immediately after his dad/coach was fired from Central Michigan, is getting a lot of high praise, and Lamar Patterson could be a huge force as well by the time this game rolls around.
February 4 vs. Notre Dame – This game marks the last Big Monday at the Dome. It was a pretty quiet summer in South Bend, with the most significant news being the NCAA’s rejection of a plea for an extra season of eligibility for Tim Abromaitis, though one was granted for Scott Martin. The early over-under for “Jerian Grant and Jerami Grant are brothers” references is 2.5.
February 10 vs. St. John’s – Steve Lavin finally appears to have something resembling a normal blend of experience and youth, but spent much of last season off the sideline as he underwent prostate cancer treatment. Over the summer, Mike Dunlap, Lavin’s top assistant who also filled in when the head coach had to step aside, bolted to take the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coaching job. Hopefully Lavin can stick around from start to finish, but if he can’t, it will be tough for St. John’s to be competitive.
February 13 at Connecticut – There’s only one SU/UConn game on the schedule in the Orange’s last go-round in the Big East, and that’s kind of sad, even if UConn’s sanctions will draw some belly laughs from the SU faithful. Younger fans like me sometimes struggle to recall a time when UConn wasn’t much of a force and have a stronger memory of the times when UConn played a more formidable enemy than Georgetown.
February 16 at Seton Hall – The Orange travel very well for games at The Rock, and I don’t see why this season should be any different.
February 20 vs. Providence – I’m not going to pretend to get very excited for this one, even though the Friars will probably be used to playing with Kris Dunn, a vaunted freshman who underwent major shoulder surgery over the summer. If you ask me, your energy is better spent getting ready for one hell of a stretch run.
February 23 vs. Georgetown – Will the perennial whispers of a game featuring the basketball court at the 50-yard line finally become a vocalized announcement? If it doesn’t come to fruition on this day, who knows when it will? In any case, a mid-afternoon weekend game and potentially the Carrier Dome finale of the rivalry provides zero excuses for there not to be at least 35,000 strong in the Loud House.
February 25 at Marquette – The Golden Eagles take a reprieve from injecting their team with juco transfers, and with Jae Crowder being the only significant piece missing from last season, Marquette will be good yet again. One big question will be whether big man Chris Otule can go more than a few games without tweaking something.
March 2 vs. Louisville – Though it may never come out publicly, I don’t think the Orange will miss the Cardinals. The Orange hold just a 3-7 record against Louisville as Big East foes, though the Orange could have a chance to end things on the high note of taking the last four regular season games in the series.
March 6 vs. DePaul – It’s a slight downer that Brandon Triche and James Southerland’s Senior Day and SU’s Big East home finale will come against a team that A) Wasn’t a part of the original Big East and B) Has brought so little in accomplishments since joining the conference. Still, the Orange get a bit of a break and can hopefully rest its legs after a daunting three-game stretch to get ready for…
March 13 at Georgetown – For all the (deserved) lashings the Big East took on Twitter and local media for scheduling just one Georgetown-Syracuse game in 2012, the mothership – and ESPN, if you want to be particular – got this one right. The teams that are most responsible for transforming the Big East into what it was for so long will meet on the regular season’s final day.