Plenty of Challenges Lie Ahead For SU In The Non-Con
Syracuse’s non-conference schedule has been a sticking point for national pundits for as long as I can remember. Over the last few years, though, the vitriol has died down as the Orange have ventured out to play road and semi-road games in places like Tampa, Kansas City and Raleigh. This season, SU’s schedule strength is once again nothing to sneer at, but there will also be the usual smattering of filler opponents. For a team that lost as much as the Orange did, I don’t have any real qualms.
1. San Diego State (Battle On The Midway) – The season tips off with a bang as SU faces one of the top programs to come from a non-BCS conference in the last five years. The Aztecs have put together an amazing prolonged stretch of play, averaging 28 wins over the last three seasons. This year should be no different, and the Orange will have its hands full with Jamaal Franklin, one of the nation’s 25 best players, and Chase Tapley. It would have been nice if this game was scheduled later on in the schedule with each team a little more refined than they figure to be early on and free of the variables that come with playing in such a unique setting, but beggars can’t be choosy.
2. Wagner – About as exciting as it sounds. The Seahawks will have the services of Dwaun Anderson, a transfer from Michigan State, but first-year head coach Bashir Mason won’t have any answers for a rested Orange team.
3. Princeton – The Tigers are one of a few nonleague opponents that could jump up and bite the ‘Cuse if they aren’t careful. Princeton was only made the favorite in the Ivy League after the recent Harvard scandal came down, but they’ll be no slouch. Like the Orange, the Tigers don’t have a ton of proven depth in the backcourt, but certainly aren’t lacking for it down low as they’re led by a very good forward in Ian Hummer. It’s worth pointing out that on the night before Thanksgiving, the Dome crowd may be a shell of its usual self, and that may help Princeton stay with the Orange. I see this game being a lot closer than most expect and it will be a tough challenge for SU’s younger players.
4. Colgate – The Patriot League will sport two strong teams, neither of which are Colgate. Let’s keep moving.
5. Arkansas (in Fayetteville) – Kentucky, Florida and Missouri are getting a ton of hype in the SEC, and deservedly so, but SU’s lone true road foe of the non-con has a really solid chance to check in right behind that triumvirate. Mike Anderson is still trying to make the Razorbacks his own, but he definitely has a few pieces. All eyes will be on the matchup between the Orange’s guards and potential 2013 lottery pick B.J. Young, and if the Orange can pull of the win, I see it being the type that only grows in value as the season wears on with the Razorbacks making moves in the SEC standings.
6. Eastern Michigan – Jim Boeheim throws Rob Murphy a bone for the second straight season. You may recall that last season, the EMU matchup was the first game SU played following Bernie Fine’s dismissal. Like many coaches of his echelon, Murphy is holding things together with some nice transfers as he puts his stamp on the program, but I don’t see it being enough to keep things close.
7. Long Beach State – Just three days after taking on Eastern Michigan, Long Beach State makes the long trek to the Dome as part of its annual gauntlet of a nonleague schedule. While the 49ers turned some heads last season by competing with Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina and Kansas State, they came up short each time and graduated their top four players. Though they return just one starter, LBSU was nonetheless tabbed as the preseason favorite in the Big West this season and is yet another program that will rely on newly-eligible transfers (including a pair from the Big East in Dan Jennings and Tony Freeland, formerly of West Virginia and DePaul, respectively).
8. Monmouth – Following Wagner, Monmouth is another NEC team that shouldn’t give the Orange much trouble. Six seniors return from an uptempo squad that forced more turnovers by rate than all but six schools in the country last year, so that may put SU on its heels if the team isn’t prepared. Ultimately, though, this one has the look of just another tune-up as the Orange have better talent across the board.
9. Canisius – Canisius topped 80 points in a game just once last season and had one of the nation’s worst defenses. You probably won’t be surprised, then, to learn that they won just five games and finished among the bottom 15 in RPI. This is SU’s opener for the Gotham Classic “tournament,” and while I get that every team needs a few cupcakes to feast on, I worry slightly about Canisius’ effect on the Orange’s RPI because they look like such an unfit opponent. SU should have no trouble cruising and using most of the game to determine bench roles.
10. Detroit – SU’s next opponent in the exempt event is the Titans, a team the Orange beat early in the 2010-11 season. They still have Ray McCallum, and if you want to feel old, Juwan Howard, Jr. will be eligible after sitting out a transfer season. The reigning runners-up of the Horizon League may be another team that puts some heat on SU before the start of league play just because
11. Temple (in Madison Square Garden) – One team on its way out of the Big East faces one on its way (back) in. Reasonable people can disagree, but if Temple is only the third-best team SU will play in the non-con (I lean slightly towards Arkansas after San Diego State), the schedule is more than fine. The Orange may need for its usual MSG semi-home court advantage to be in conference tournament form. The Owls look to fill the voids left by Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, who graduated after what felt like 17 years playing under Fran Dunphy. Temple has a deep core of wings and swingmen, but as of now, it’s unclear how their backcourt and post situations will shake out.
12. Alcorn State – The Orange get a breather as they go into the home stretch of the non-con. Just about everything I said for Canisius also applies here. The Braves won nine games in 2011-12, and I can’t decide which is worse: That three of their wins came against non-DI teams, or that one of their 22 losses came against one.
13. Central Connecticut – A sweep of the three NEC teams on the Orange’s schedule wouldn’t be quite comparable to the sweep of four Big 12 teams in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, but that will be the result if SU takes care of business in its non-conference finale.
Even though I’ve been counting the days, it’s still crazy knowing that we’ll have exhibition play in under a week and the real thing in just two.