Late last week, Syracuse began releasing its schedule for the 2022-23 season. So far, the Orange have confirmed Lehigh and Colgate as opponents. Also, sources say Bryant will come to the Dome in late November.
Two of those programs made the NCAA Tournament, but that isn’t exactly elite competition. Also, even though March Madness sweetheart Doug Edert just transferred to Bryant, the competition isn’t exactly exciting either. It would benefit Syracuse greatly to have some marquee matchups before ACC play begins for multiple reasons.
That’s not to say SU is planning a cakewalk of a non-conference schedule. The ACC-B1G challenge is always exciting. Syracuse is participating in the Empire Classic in Brooklyn Thanksgiving week. That event features old Big East rival St. John’s. It’s also safe to expect Georgetown to visit the 315. But that is nowhere near enough.
It’s hard to imagine Central New York is eager to buy tickets to see Syracuse play Lehigh. Who would draw a crowd? Uconn, Providence, or another old Big East rival. A high-major program. From a marketing perspective, SU would be foolish to schedule a Bucknell or a Morehead State as opposed to a tougher opponent. It won’t draw a big crowd, nor will it generate TV revenue. Sorry Jessie J, it’s all about the money, and Syracuse will rake it in with tougher opponents.
From a recruiting perspective, the top talents in the country want the best competition. Will five-star and four-star recruits be happy if their visit includes Syracuse playing a Northeastern or a Rider? Absolutely not. But what if the Orange welcome an Oregon or a Seton Hall? That’s more enticing, isn’t it? The top prospects in the country expect to go to the NBA. Weak competition will not prepare them for it. If SU wants top recruits, it must have better competition in the non-conference slate.
In terms of the actual team, a weak non-conference schedule would spell immediate doom come conference play. Syracuse’s last two games before the ACC schedule ramped up were against Brown and Cornell. Whoopdeedo. That competition did not prepare the Orange for conference play, and it showed. SU lost its ensuing three games to Virginia, Miami, and Wake Forest. The worst part is that all three games were within five points. That cannot happen again, especially in a season where multiple freshmen could play key minutes. If SU enters conference play with opponents similar to last year, it will crumble faster than Pompeii did when Vesuvius erupted. It’s impossible to overstate how important experience playing down-to-the-wire games against tough competition is for Syracuse’s young guns before the monster that is ACC play awakens.
By no means should Syracuse schedule Kentucky, Kansas, and UCLA. That’s too much. But it would be nice if the non-conference schedule had a little more zing and pep than in years past. Gonzaga scheduled five top-25 teams that aren’t in its conference last season. The Orange are nowhere near the level of the Bulldogs, and they shouldn’t schedule five top-25 teams. Why not schedule two? The results may be ugly at first, but that is how this program begins to ascend to a title contender again.