With all the recruiting things going on over the past 24 hours-plus, you may have forgotten that the Syracuse Orange basketball team is still very much in the middle of its season. You'll be forgiven this time, as will I. But not again...
Well, to catch you up: SU is 16-8 (6-5 in the ACC) and has won three straight games and six of seven. The past two games have been nerve-wracking, but you could understand how that would happen given the stretch this team has been subjected to of late.
Jim Boeheim pointed out how bad the ACC's scheduling was last week, and he was right. Still is. The Orange have played 11 ACC games in 35 days, and when they wrapped up a tight OT win over Virginia Tech, it was their third game in six days. They won them all. But as a result, they're exhausted.
But at least they're just now getting a respite. With seven games to go (at least two against ranked opponents), Syracuse will get a weird, nine-day gap between the Hokies win and their next game, against Florida State on Thursday, February 11. The stretch described earlier would be taxing on any team -- problem is, this is just any team. It's one that's had to have two different coaches leading. It's one that has traveled out of the country already. And it's one that (yes, by its own accord) sports a six- or seven-man rotation, for the most part.
Syracuse.com's Mike Waters spoke to the team about how they're holding up and the prevailing sentiments were those of relief and embracing the much-needed rest. It also revealed that the team's most valuable asset right now could be its veterans.
From senior Trevor Cooney:
"I've been through this before. You've got to take care of your body. You've got to take these next couple days off a little bit. Then you slowly get back into the gym and get your shots up and get your work in.''
And fellow senior Michael Gbinije:
"You've just got to stay in attack mode. Maybe ease off a little bit physically, watch some film, make sure you stretch, we have hot and cold tubs, take advantage of that and just try to mentally prepare.''
Even Boeheim, who himself dealt with unwanted time off, could use a break:
"I think we need some time off. We need to work on some things. We had the toughest part of our schedule and then we had a little breather; there is no breather, but now we're going to have the toughest part of our schedule coming up again.''
That "toughest part of the schedule" bit is important to note. Before the season, we saw the January 9 North Carolina game as the start of an impossible gauntlet that stretched through this Virginia Tech game on Tuesday. Sure, some teams weren't all that great, but the time constraints of portions and the four ranked teams? It was shaping up to be the sort of thing that put an early tombstone on another disastrous year.
Syracuse went 6-2, beating two of those ranked teams (Duke and Notre Dame) in the process.
As mentioned, the rest of the schedule is far from easy -- the ACC is a bear this year, after all. But as we were discussing last week, a 4-3 finish over the final seven could be all this team needs to get themselves an NCAA Tournament nod now. Better than that, then we start discussing even higher stakes...