The best is yet to come.
Yes, the Syracuse Orange, who have a program-high AP ranking, a near-perfect record in non-conference play and almost upset the No. 1 team, could be getting even better.
And Quentin Hillsman knows it, too.
That's because his team has been without its best scorer, Brittney Sykes, for the entire season thus far. Sykes tore her ACL back in March, but could return as early as next week. Sykes led Syracuse with 16.6 points per game last season, while also ranking among the best on the team in assists, steals and rebounds. She's also one of 50 national finalists for this year's Naismith Award.
Sykes told the Post-Standard's Donna Ditota that she's getting very close to coming back on the court.
"I feel great," she told Syracuse.com. "At any given point I just want to run on the floor and play with my team again. I'm counting down the days, just waiting for them to give me the go-ahead."
Even without Sykes, the Orange is No. 19 in the country, which is the highest it has ever been in the AP Poll. And its offense averages 72.6 points per game, the exact total from a season ago.
"We're a great team already. We have so many pieces on this team. I think being the 19th ranked team in the country we've shown that you don't need one player. You need everybody on the team. This year, we've added pieces. Everybody's playing their role. I'm going to have to work my way back into the system because it's going to be new for me and new for my teammates. They've played nine games without me. Now I have to get in the flow of the offense."
Sykes provides the Orange with a high volume shooter and a high efficiency shooter (50.5 percent last year), as well as a good all-around defender and an extra body. Hillsman uses an up-tempo, high energy press defense that requires multiple substitutions, often at the same time.
So far, Syracuse has been deep enough to do exceedingly well, even without Sykes in the lineup. The road, however, gets much tougher for Hillsman and the Orange, who faces No. 9 Baylor on Friday, No. 18 Michigan State on Sunday, as well as perennial powerhouse Notre Dame in a few weeks.
Last week, Hillsman said that while Sykes wouldn't play against Baylor, she got a step closer after a recent team evaluation. She was cleared for contact drills, even prompting Hillsman to say that he'd play the guard if it was his decision.
"She has progressed a little more," Hillsman said. "She's almost full participation in practice so she's close. She's been close for a long time."
Sykes has been Syracuse's biggest cheerleader and motivator from the bench over the past month. She told Ditota that it's been frustrating to watch from the sidelines, but also a learning experience.
It's been a blessing. It's been an honor to watch my team play and be on the other end of the spectrum, being involved in a different way. Helping them out and seeing things I wouldn't normally see if I was playing because I'm so worried about winning the game. It was hard, the first game. But as the games go on, it's gotten easier. But now, I'm becoming more anxious because it's getting closer and closer to maybe being able to play.