The players admitted they didn't know anything about Chattanooga, a small school in southern Tennessee.
Coach Quentin Hillsman knew a little more. Well, enough to make a big guarantee.
"We're going to win the game," Hillsman said.
On Selection Monday, the Orange earned the six seed in the Notre Dame region, tying the school's highest ranking. Syracuse drew Chattanooga (29-3) in the opening round in Lexington, Ky. With a victory, Syracuse would play the winner of No. 3 Kentucky and No. 14 Wright State. The top two seeds in SU's region are Notre Dame and Baylor.
"It’s good to go back to the tournament," Hillsman said. "It’s good to have a team that went last year going back again so we know what to expect."
In eight years at Syracuse, Hillsman hasn't won a single game in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Syracuse doesn't have an NCAA win in its program history, either. But that will all change on Saturday, Hillsman says, when his Orange take on the Mocs.
"We’re not going there to lose," he said. "I can’t leave here thinking we’re going to lose the basketball game. I really feel confident in our basketball team. We’re playing well."
Last season, Syracuse earned a No. 7 seed, but was upset in the first round by the Creighton Bluejays. The Orange will be favored again this year and Hillsman says he'll do anything to prevent another early exit. That includes having "Chattanooga overload" by Saturday, making constant coffee runs to Starbucks and Tim Hortons and pulling all-nighters to watch game film.
One reason for Coach Q's confidence is the development of Brittney Sykes. The 5-9 guard averaged 16.7 points this season and earned ACC Coaches' second-team honors. Sykes was a freshman on the Syracuse team that was upset by Creighton, 61-55, last March. She had 12 rebounds and four blocks in the game, a preview of what was to come. She believes that getting the experience playing the NCAA Tournament will help Syracuse in its preparation this week.
"We were there and we had a taste of the NCAA floor," Sykes said. "We played against a team that we should have beaten, but they won the game."
Sykes' only knowledge about this year's opponent is that the school is located in Tennessee. It will be the first meeting between the Orange and the Mocs, who play in the Southern Conference. Chattanooga won the conference tournament by pulling off a 71-45 championship win over Davidson. The team has an impressive 16-0 record in league play.
"They are just a very balanced team," Hillsman said. "They do a very good job of shooting the ball. They have inside-outside presence and they are a very good basketball team."
Just like last season, the Orange had to wait quite a while to hear the seed, location and first-round opponent. Syracuse was one of the last eight teams to be announced. Although the team was confident, there was a huge sigh of relief when the block-S logo finally appeared on the big screen.
"Half the team didn’t even know who we were playing first when they called our names," Sykes said. "All we knew is they said Syracuse is a six seed and we all just started screaming. I know I was one of them."
The players didn't have too much suspense because they weren't on the bubble. Seeing comparable ACC teams comfortably make the tournament eased the pressure, as well. But it still made for a long hour in the Melo Center, where seemingly everyone was holding their breath.
Rachel Coffey, the team's senior point guard, may have put it best while trying to explain Syracuse's waiting game two years in a row on Selection Monday.
Said Coffey, "I guess they’re just saving the best for last."