Syracuse Basketball: Indiana, North Carolina, Duke, Oh My...

USA TODAY Sports

The biggest names in college basketball will be playing under the Big Top next season. Plus, Syracuse travels to Maui and hosts Indiana. Big challenges ahead for the Orange in 2013-14.

We're getting closer and closer to it being reality, but I'm still not totally used to this whole Syracuse in the ACC thing. I mean, in looking at the football schedule, I thought most of the shock had worn off; I was mentally ready for it. Seeing Georgia Tech, Clemson, N.C. State, Florida State on the agenda was a little strange, but not really Earthshaking.

But with the Orange will hosting Indiana in the Big 10/ACC Challenge, well, I realized, this is still kind of crazy to me. Really, just the fact that Syracuse is once again involved in a real conference v. conference battle (sorry SEC hoops, but I will always prefer the ACC/Big East Challenge) is something to look forward to. And giving us the tradition-rich Hoosiers? I mean, that's a nice Christmas present for us hoops fans.

Of course, adding in Tom Crean, his highly rated recruits, and his ode to Dwight Schrute haircut does make the overall slate of games for the ACC-bound Orange look more than daunting.There's the Maui Invitational, then the Hoosiers, a For Old Time's Sake game at the Dome with Villanova, and then the regulars of the ACC.

That type of schedule is either a basketball present for us in Central New York, one that keeps giving. Or it's bunny pajamas you're forced to wear, over and over again, every time your aunt is in town -- and she visits a lot.

Just look at the field in Maui: Gonzaga and Baylor, two potential Orange opponents in Paradise, are both in the preseason top 25 polls. Even if the field is down, the tourney is usually the most coverage college hoops gets in football-mad November. So, should Syracuse avoids the Zags Bulldogs and/or the Bears, it will still likely receive a fair amount of attention -- which could be good or bad, or both.

And back on the Mainland, those Hoosiers will be waiting -- Tuesday, Dec. 3 -- for a game that's sure to bring Dick Vitale and the rest of the ESPN Big Boys to the Dome. And while Indiana is likely to be preseason top-20 rather than top-10, it's yet another ranked opponent for Jim Boeheim and company, just a few days removed from Thanksgiving!

It's all not exactly murder's row, but November and December are full of pitfalls and real challenges, including the Wildcats of Villanova (Tuesday, December 28) returning to the Dome just a few days before the ACC schedule starts up. In other words, we'll learn a lot about a team that's losing three starters and will be relying on a whole lot of inexperience within the first few months.

Which of course could end up being a very good thing. Michigan State's Tom Izzo is famous for scheduling tough in November and December, and usually his teams are either considered tough outs come March, or they actually are tough outs come March. Sometime perception is greater than reality -- perception can lead to higher than deserved seeds and easier paths to the Final Four.

Either way, playing the Big Boys early can pay off late.

Although it is interesting; Boeheim has usually avoided too many difficult tests early, usually pointing to the bloated Big East as reason not to wear down his teams. This season, even under a new conference banner, will still bring a bloated league. The ACC will provide a home-and-home with Duke, Miami, and Pittsburgh, all NCAA tourney teams last season. Plus, North Carolina comes to the Dome and Syracuse will battle top-25 Notre Dame, and will have to venture to Tallahassee, a place highly ranked ACC teams go to lose.

Basically, looking over the paper in May, the schedule, ACC and otherwise, looks like it could be rough. Interesting, entertaining, providing big media coverage...but, still, rough.

Yet, there is another possible "benefit" in play I thought of after seeing that Indiana was coming to the Dome - on top of Duke, UNC, etc - given the likely high preseason ranking, and the big names coming to the Dome like UNC and the Blue Devils and Hoosiers. Syracuse should be poised to take back the nation's attendance crown. A "championship" that was exclusive to Central New York for years has belonged to Kentucky for the better part of the 2000's. With huge crowds expected, I would imagine 30,000-plus, for a handful of games, the Orange should get that belt back.

(I should point out though, given that Syracuse has such a huge arena to play in, it is impressive that, even in the down years, UK does so well. Basketball is big in CNY, it's life in certain other parts of the country -- i.e., Kentucky. Actually, home, away, and on neutral courts Kentucky draws better than any other team. Syracuse comes in a very respectable third behind another Blue Grasser, Louisville.)

But we of course have time before any of this happens. Before Maui, before the non-conference slate, before the first ACC tip-off. For now, we just have to wait for it to become reality. Time to get ready for what should be one of the most exciting, entertaining, frustrating, inexplicable, and interesting seasons in Syracuse history.

Actually, come to think of it, maybe this move won't be that much of a change from the norm after all?

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