It’s funny how life sometimes brings full-circle moments, and this piece provides one for us here at the Fizz today. Almost exactly one year ago, we debated whether Syracuse would benefit from a tough non-conference schedule in 2022-23. Jim Boeheim and company decided on a lighter load, but losses to Colgate and Bryant hurt the Orange. This season, we knew SU would play against some of college basketball’s best in Maui as well as an SEC school before the coaching change. But evidently, that wasn’t enough for Adrian Autry in year one.
So that begs the question, why? And we’re not trying to answer it, we’re actually wondering why, because the decision to play this game is a head-scratching one.
Let’s look back to last year’s non-conference schedule. Syracuse had three games where you wouldn’t be angry with a loss. The two games in the Empire Classic against Richmond who won an NCAA Tournament game the previous year, and a St. John’s team that started hot. Additionally, you had the ACC-B1G challenge against Illinois. The contests in Brooklyn went far better than the one in Champaign, but the contests in Brooklyn also drained the Orange. Two overtime games leading into Thanksgiving are grueling, and then they played two days after the holiday (and lost to freaking Bryant!). Simply put, those tough games took some gas out of the tank, and now you want to add more?
What we overlooked when arguing for a tough schedule last season was the development of young players, and there is undeniably plenty of development still left to be done. First of all, all of the new pieces need to develop chemistry with the returners. JJ Starling, Chance Westry, Kyle Cuffe, and Naheem McLeod all have potential, but can they reach it? And will they gel with the guys coming back? Speaking of which, Chris Bell needs to rebound consistently, Justin Taylor needs to improve off the dribble, Benny Williams needs to fix his jumper, and Quadir Copeland needs to work on his perimeter game. Four things that can absolutely happen, but won’t easily against some of college basketball’s best. You’d like to see improvement in those categories before ACC play arrives, right?
The last thing worth examining is where the game is being played, and it isn’t being talked about enough. The Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota hosts the G-League affiliate of the Heat and seats just over 3,000 people. If anything it should be a fascinating experience playing there. But if you’re going to schedule an opponent of Oregon’s caliber, can’t you find a way to have it at home? Yes, it would be impossible to convince the Ducks to fly from coast to coast, that’s why the word “caliber” is key. With how difficult the schedule already was, if you’re going to continue to pile on the opponents, you need to play it at home.
A year ago the philosophy could not have been more different. The logic was it’s good to get tough games in early to be ready for ACC play. But you need to win games to get ready for the conference slate, and the Raiders and Bulldogs came into the Dome and embarrassed SU. Where it sat- three games in Hawaii and an SEC school (and Georgetown)- was perfect. The addition of this game feels like a bit of an overhaul.