As you probably saw on Thursday, the Syracuse Orange basketball team was ranked 24th in the USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll. This is some good news, especially for a team that lost three prominent players from a team that went on the longest win streak in school history to start a season.
But beating, or even matching, that mark of 25 straight will be very difficult to accomplish this year because of the strength of their schedule.
This is no knock on the Orange team, which I think has a chance to be very good in 2014-15, that is just how strong their schedule is. They are have seven matchups on their schedule that feature opponents ranked in this preseason poll. Five of those teams are ranked in the top 10, four of which are ACC schools. They even play four teams that received votes but didn't quite make the poll. That sounds like trouble.
Their first ranked matchup will be in late November in Madison Square Garden at the 2K Classic. The Orange, win or lose, will face the winner or loser of Iowa and Texas, the Hawkeyes sitting at the 25th spot and the Longhorns at 10.
They will travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on December 2nd. The Wolverines sit at 23rd in the poll as John Beilein and Jim Boeheim's squads face off for the first time since they met in the 2013 Final Four. We all know how that one ended.
They then travel Villanova on December 20th for a date with their former Big East foe. This is the second game of a home-and-home, the Orange winning last year's match up in the Carrier Dome. There will be a lot of familiar faces, including seniors forward JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard, along with junior Ryan Arcidiacono, who hit the game-tying three to send the game to overtime the last time the two met at the Wells Fargo Center, their last season in the Big East and the same one that the Wolverines beat them. Sorry for bringing up all of these painful memories.
The Orange will then see four conference opponents. They face Mike Krzyzewski and third ranked Duke twice this season, once at the Carrier Dome and again at Cameron Indoor. The Blue Devils, led by freshman center and top recruit Jahlil Okafor, will be a force to be wrecking with all season long, setting the tone for two more incredible matchup, combining a mix of veterans and one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
The Orange will be traveling to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina. The Tar Heels, ranked sixth in the poll, feature a lot of returning stars, including ACC player of the year candidate Marcus Paige and freshman forward Justin Johnson, who was ranked 8th by ESPN in their class of 2014 rankings.
It doesn't stop there. The Orange have also have to play Virginia, the eighth ranked team in the country and defending ACC champion. After losing in Charlottesville last year, the Orange will be set to gain revenge at the Dome this time. This will be no easy task, as Tony Bennett brings back All-ACC first teamer Malcolm Brogdon and his savvy sophomore point guard London Perrantes. This team played very well together last season, so chemistry and success shouldn't be too difficult for the Cavaliers.
Lastly, the Orange face the newest member of the ACC, ninth ranked Louisville, once. The former Big East rivals will meet again, with some familiar faces from team that the Orange last saw in beating them for the Big East title in their last season in the conference on the floor of MSG. Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and of course Rick Pitino. These guys know Syracuse very well and have had success against them in recent years, The Cardinals have beaten the Orange in 15 of their 22 all-time meetings, so this matchup will prove to be a tough one as always.
The Orange, who will see three new starters this season, one of which will be another freshman point guard in Kaleb Joseph, will quickly learn how tough the college basketball season can be. Their schedule could prove to be one of the toughest in the country and they will be in for some close calls and maybe even some losses before they even hit conference play. This team, however, features a lot of talent, and lessons will be learned during the process, preparing them for the long haul of the season.