Even before the ACC-SEC challenge matchups dropped earlier today, Syracuse’s non-conference schedule had a drastically different look from last year’s. The Orange only faced three high major opponents before ACC play in Fall 2022 (St. John’s, Illinois, & Georgetown). In 2023, SU will meet a minimum of five such teams (barring a sudden end to a recurring matchup). Now that we know Syracuse will host LSU in its inaugural ACC-SEC challenge clash, let’s take a look at how things are going to shape up leading into the conference gauntlet.
To properly assess the season ahead, it makes sense to center it all around the Maui Invitational the Orange are playing in Thanksgiving week. With three games in three days against college basketball’s cream of the crop, it will be a great test. With little relief before and after.
Out of our three stretches of the non-conference slate, this one is easily the least daunting. SU opens the season with three home games, the first two of which are against New Hampshire and Canisius in a three-day span. The Golden Griffins have not made the Big Dance since 1996, while the Wildcats are one of 45 Division I programs to never make it. But the third (and presumably final) game before Maui is one to circle on the calendar.
Remember Colgate? You’ve been spared the pain if you don’t. The Raiders have beaten the Orange by 10+ points inside the Dome not once, but twice over the last two seasons. That should never ever happen. This game could provide a very early indicator of how the season could go, because a third loss to Colgate in as many years would be an early cause for panic.
Paradise? The location might be, but the opponents Syracuse will deal with are anything but. Kansas won the National Title in 2022. Purdue brings back the reigning Player of the Year. Marquette has reenergized its program under Shaka Smart. Gonzaga, UCLA, and Tennessee are all as good as locks for March Madness nowadays. And then there’s D2 Chaminade.
We don’t know who the Orange will face when the Maui Invitational opens, but regardless, beating a team other than Chaminade is going to be a tall task. That makes a 3-0 start all the more important. If SU plays two competitive games against non-Chaminade teams, you’re probably pretty satisfied. If Syracuse beats a team other than Chaminade in the Islands, it’ll be quite difficult to complain.
SU’s non-conference slate has consisted of 11 games over the last two seasons. We’ve covered six. Out of the remaining five, three have been confirmed. The aforementioned meeting with LSU, a battle with Oregon in South Dakota, and a showdown with Niagara a few days before Christmas. Neither of the first two is a college basketball powerhouse, but both have made the NCAA Tournament at least once since the pandemic. The same cannot be said for the Purple Eagles, who haven’t made March Madness since 2007. Not a particularly easy trio of games, but not a terribly difficult one either.
As for the other two, nothing is official but it’s reasonable that a trip to the nation’s capital to face Georgetown and a home bout with Cornell will be announced. The Orange and Hoyas have met every season since 2015, the same can be said for the Big Red going back to 2013. It would be shocking if Syracuse doesn’t face one or neither of these teams this season.
So here’s what we’re looking at. At a minimum, it’s a very intriguing 11 games. We’ll learn a lot about this team when it looks to avoid embarrassment against Colgate again and when it faces some of college hoops’ best in the Aloha State. In other words, we’ll know very quickly if 2024 March Madness is feasible.