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Syracuse basketball: Ranking Orange’s 10 most important games this season

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The schedule’s out. Which games do we care about most?

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve known the full list of Syracuse Orange men’s basketball opponents for a couple months now. But without the context of WHEN those games occur, it was hard to really gauge importance.

Well, now SU’s schedule has been officially released and we know exactly which opponents the Orange face when. So out of those 31 games, which 10 do we think are the most important?

We count down:

10. Florida State Seminoles (Jan. 28)

Going into 2016-17 the ‘Noles could be ranked, and that puts some extra weight on this one right off the bat. Problem is, we just haven’t worked up enough venom for FSU on the basketball court to elevate even a ranked opponent past this spot. Having the game in late January also gives both teams time to recover from a loss. Still, this one’s importance comes from the potential conference standings swing it results in.

9. at Pittsburgh Panthers (Feb. 11)

As we’ve covered before, goddamn you, Pitt. Went with this one over the home date on Jan. 7 (again, why are these always during winter break?) because of where it lays on the calendar and the importance of picking up a quality road win. Sure, some of the Panthers’ expertise against SU may vanish with Jamie Dixon’s departure. But we still have some demons to kill off in this building.

8. Georgetown Hoyas (Dec. 17)

Crucify me all you want for putting the Hoyas this low, but given the lack of expectations at Georgetown once again, what’s the big deal here beyond our long-term hate? That alone vaults it to this point, as Syracuse tries to atone for a bad loss down in D.C. last year. Maybe G’town will be improved, and the game takes on some extra weight as a major non-conference matchup. Until then, pride is the big selling point.

7. Connecticut Huskies (Dec. 5)

UConn gets the nod over Georgetown because they’re supposed to be the better team and this one takes place at Madison Square Garden. Recruits will be watching and/or present, and as always, the two programs are in the running for a lot of the same guys in 2017 and beyond. We laugh at the “who owns New York?” narrative, and rightfully so. But who wins this game will create at least some lasting impact for parties other than just the fans.

6. Louisville Cardinals (Feb. 13)

Assuming there are no sanctions or other NCAA penalties coming their way, the Cardinals will be fighting it out with Syracuse for one of the ACC’s top four seeds at this point. The home game is likely a Big Monday showdown that puts both programs in the spotlight for recruits, as well as the tournament committee. It’ll also go a long way toward deciding the direction of the season’s stretch run for both.

5. at Wisconsin Badgers (Nov. 29)

The Badgers could very well be the class of the Big Ten, and collecting that pelt during the regular season — one the Orange whiffed on last year -- would be enormous in terms of seeding. The stakes are obvious: big non-conference victory, revenge, etc. A loss last year derailed the hype train for SU. Could a win in this matchup this fall get it going for the Orange?

4. at Louisville Cardinals (Feb. 26)

This matchup gets a better billing than the home game due to where it falls on the calendar. Big road game serving as a chance to bolster Syracuse’s resume and potentially lock up a better ACC Tournament seeding. Coming off the Duke game right before it, this one also has some letdown potential for SU. The Sunday showcase on CBS also adds a level of excitement and a postseason-type atmosphere.

3. Virginia Cavaliers (Feb. 4)

A Saturday matchup between two regional finalists has College Gameday written all over it if both teams can main places among the nation’s top 10 or 15 teams. As you’ll recall, Syracuse knocked off the highly-favored Hoos en route to the Final Four -- a fact unlikely to be lost on Virginia 11 or so months later. Expect a festive atmosphere at the Dome, for sure.

2. at North Carolina Tar Heels (Jan. 16)

It’s of little surprise the Heels will be a top-10 team once again when the season opens, and Syracuse should be eager to avenge its loss in the Final Four (and the other two losses it suffered to UNC last year, too). This is another likely Big Monday game, and one that should do a lot to set the ACC regular season narrative early on. Plus, another opportunity to grab a major road win for the resume.

1. Duke Blue Devils (Feb. 22)

Duke’s the odds-on favorite to win the national championship for 2016-17, boasting a roster full of five-star talent and an eagerness to get back to the Final Four after bowing out early this past spring. This game could challenge the Carrier Dome’s attendance record despite taking place on a Wednesday. It might also end up being the season’s best game, AND may even decide the ACC’s regular season championship considering how late it occurs. Needless to say, lots at stake when these two teams tip off.

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Any other games you’d consider worth of top-10 consideration? Or maybe you’d rather the order above was switched around a little? Feel free to weigh in below.