On Thursday, the ACC released the 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule, providing dates, times and networks for every game. That list obviously included the Syracuse Orange’s own slate -- once again a challenging one. But it’s an especially uphill climb for a program that’s replacing quite a bit from last year’s roster.
Now, we don’t know what Syracuse will be or can be this season. We’re guessing there will be questions marks given the team’s youth. And there’s also quite a bit of unproven talent on the roster.
Yet, in order to make it back to the NCAA Tournament -- IF they can make it back — it’s going to take at least a winning record in their toughest games.
Below is a list of SU’s most important games this season. Obviously they have to win more than 10 overall. But winning some of these would certainly help matters.
1. Syracuse at Duke Blue Devils (February 24)
This is also the least likely victory for Syracuse. But it presents the best opportunity for the Orange to pick up a marquee road win. When you look at why SU didn’t make the tournament in 2017, but did in 2016, the win over Duke at Cameron was one of the biggest differentiators. This Blue Devils team is better than that one. They’re also likely the nation’s top squad overall.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels at Syracuse (February 21)
Syracuse hasn’t beaten UNC in its last five tries, and is just 1-5 against the Heels since joining the ACC. Whether at home or away, a win over this team would be a huge resume boost. And considering its context in the schedule — in between games vs. Miami and Duke — grabbing at least one victory would be key to any tournament run.
3. Syracuse at Louisville Cardinals (February 5)
SU almost beat Louisville at home last year, then got smoked on the road. The Orange get a chance at redemption now, but like many of the teams on this list, there’s a significant gap in quantifiable talent right now. Syracuse has lost five of six in this series. Maybe they’re due for a victory?
4. Syracuse at Miami Hurricanes (February 17)
The Orange and Hurricanes split last year, but SU dropped the critical contest in the ACC Tournament that may have gotten them into the NCAAs. Two of the U’s top three scorers are back, which makes them just as dangerous as last year, potentially. We’re supposed to be the better program. It’d be nice to grab just our second win against them since 2015.
5. Syracuse at Virginia Cavaliers (January 9)
The Hoos are sinking back to the pack a little, maybe similarly to Syracuse. But they do have the insufferable man bun Kyle Guy, and slightly more proven talent around him. SU’s in Tony Bennett’s head, but neither of the last two victories were at UVA. Unfortunately you may not be able to see this one since it’s on the ACC Network...
6. Syracuse vs. Kansas Jayhawks (December 2)
KU’s better than all of these teams, except maybe North Carolina. But since they’re outside of the ACC, a loss means a little less. This game’s also in Miami because “reasons,” so a win might not matter as much as it would on the road. Still, a top 10 team is a top 10 team.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Syracuse (January 6)
We don’t like the Irish because they close the talent gap by being pesky. Now that the roles are a bit reversed, perhaps Syracuse could be pesky as well with a young team. Beating ND at the Dome won’t be something that puts SU over the top. But it could be part of a strong overall resume if coupled with some more marquee victories.
8. Virginia at Syracuse (February 3)
See the previous UVA entry. Turning the Dome into Bennett’s house of horrors would be a delightful development. Let’s make that happen, no matter how this season turns out for Syracuse.
9. Syracuse vs. Connecticut Huskies (December 5)
The Orange lost an ugly-as-sin game at MSG last year, but that UConn team was also much worse than normal. This year’s will probably be better, and should be in the top three or four in the AAC and an NCAA at-large contender. A win over that type of team at a neutral site is worth something. But the Huskies will hold the key to how much. Also: Hatred for this program could easily drive it up a few spots if you so choose.
10. Syracuse at Georgetown Hoyas (December 16)
Hey, remember when this was the most important game of any season? Well, since those days, the Hoyas’ program has cratered, even if they’ve beaten us the last two times out. That last fact kills me, and likely you too. Even if disaster befalls the Orange and we miss the NCAAs again, beating Georgetown would at least make me feel a little better about it all. And for that, it’s sort of important.
Any other games you had in mind? Toss your own into the comments.