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What to watch for in Syracuse women’s basketball opener vs. Rhode Island

The Syracuse women enter the season with their best ranking ever

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Sioux Falls Regional-Syracuse vs Tennessee Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange women’s basketball opens up play against the Rhode Island Rams today at 3 p.m. inside the Carrier Dome. It is an exciting time for the team and its fans. Syracuse made it all the way to the NCAA Championship Game before bowing out to Connecticut. The Orange are ranked 14th headed into the year, which ties for the highest the team has ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll. Here is a look at what to watch as Syracuse heads into the 2015-2016 season.

Overcoming the Loss of Brianna Butler and Maggie Morrison

One of the biggest question marks headed into the opener against Rhode Island is whether the Orange can replace Morrison and Butler. A big reason that Syracuse was able to do so well last season was their terrific performance from the three-point line. Butler and Morrison made 180 of the 334 threes the team made last season.

The Best Backcourt in the Nation

Two players that will be asked to step up and replace some of that three-point shooting are Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes. The duo forms the best backcourt in the nation, and they will be the determining factor on how far Syracuse can go this season. Peterson is among the best players in the country. Sykes made the All-Final Four team last year, but she needs to improve on her 21 percent three-point percentage from a season ago.

Run-and-Gun Offense

One of the greatest things about last season was how much fun it was to watch Syracuse play. They pushed the pace relentlessly, forcing opponents to sprint back on defense. They shot three-pointers at a blistering pace. That up-tempo style will be back again this year. Expect coach Quentin Hillsman’s team to push the pace from the opening second against Rhode Island, and expect them to keep pushing it all the way through another deep run in the NCAA tournament.

A Thrilling Freshman

Syracuse returns four starters from the team that almost won it all last year, and that team got a great new player when they signed Desiree Elmore. She is a five-star recruit from Connecticut, and somehow Coach Hillsman was able to steal her out from under the noses of the Huskies. The 5’9” combo guard can do it all in the backcourt. She is very athletic, and she can play and defend every position but the five.

A Look at Rhode Island

Rhode Island is coming off a 12-18 season. They just lost 64-29 in an exhibition game at Providence. In that contest, Rhode Island only manage to score seven total points in the first half. Even though they are not a great team, Syracuse needs to be wary of them. This is the second-straight that one year that Syracuse has opened its season by facing Rhode Island. They narrowly avoided defeat in last year’s contest, needing a fourth-quarter comeback to squeak out a 67-64 victory. That game was on the road in Kingston. At home with the Carrier Dome crowd behind them, Syracuse should cruise to an easy victory in their home opener.