All due respect to the mighty powerhouses that are Kutztown and Le Moyne but the Syracuse basketball season officially begins tonight against Northern Iowa.
So what do we know about the Panthers? We know they were good last year with a Sweet Sixteen visit. But how does that translate to this year? They lost some guys but they've also got some talent to replace them (sound familiar?). The Panthers might not have the talent to match up with the new-look Orange but they've certainly got the system in place to make it interesting.
The Panthers return eight letter winners and two starters from last year’s team. Senior Kwadzu Ahelegbe was named to the Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference team. Ahelegbe is the Panther’s leading returning scorer after averaging 10.6 points per game last year. Junior Johnny Moran started 33 games last season for the Panthers and led the team in steals (1.1 per game).
Checked out Mike Water's game scouting report here for full breakdowns.
It's quite the different kind of season-opener than the Orange are used to. Usually its an Albany or someone of that caliber. If you want to blame anyone for putting a team that's been to five of the last seven NCAA Tournies on our schedule so early, blame Northern Iowa's coach Ben Jacobson.
"We never said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play the best team we can on opening weekend,’" Jacobson, Northern Iowa’s venerated men’s basketball coach, says when asked about the Panthers’ season opener Friday night at No. 10 Syracuse. "It just happened to be that that was the date that we still had open and it was available for Syracuse — that’s why it was the first weekend."
For the Orange, the play of the big men is going to be crucial. The fact that there's two freshmen who will be seeing time in the frontcourt could be a concern, if you weren't Jim Boeheim and hadn't seen it all before...
"I don't worry about those things," Boeheim said. "If they happen, they happen. It's not unusual with freshman players. There's nothing you can do about it. Worrying doesn't do any good. They have to learn how to play."
"We have two big guys, fortunately," Boeheim said. "And then we still have Rick (Jackson) to go back on, so I think we have more than enough in there. They're going to get into foul trouble. It's just part of learning how to play college basketball. It takes time, and it's normal for freshman big guys."
Looking for mismatches? Look no further than Kris Joseph and Kerwin Dunham.
Out on the wing will be Kris Joseph going up against Dunham. After Melo-O’Rear, this is the next-biggest mismatch in favor of the Orange. Dunham is another player who is making the move into a more prominent role with the Panthers. He’ll be tested early and often not only against Joseph’s crazy athleticism, but also against the perimeter games of James Southerland and Mookie Jones.
At the end of the day, if the Panthers want any shot in this one, they're going to need a hot hand beyond the arc. The time-tested way to beat the zone is do-able as they have some three-point shooters but its going to take a lot to counteract the advantage the Orange have underneath and in the wings.
The Daily Orange 2010-2011 Season Preview is out...Daily Orange
The game will be available on ESPN3.com...9WSYR.com
Northern Iowa: where brackets go to die...Cuse Country
Bold Predictions for the Syracuse Men's Basketball Team...Three Idiots on Sports
Northern Iowa Scouting Report: I thought I told you to shave those sideburns, Mattingly!...Cuse Connection
Ask The Army: Are You Buying Into The Syracuse Basketball Hype?...Otto's Army