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Syracuse basketball and the Italian meal structure

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After actually stepping away for once, it’s nice to be back.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For nearly two weeks, I didn’t write an actual article about Syracuse Orange sports. Sure, there were the occasional tweets while I was in Italy. But by and large, I was truly offline and Syracuse-free for the first time in nearly five years. It was a needed break that allowed me to step away from things for once and maybe find some outside perspective on the site and the Orange.

Naturally, I found inspiration in Italy’s rich food culture, and the layered structure of traditional meals there. Sure, we have courses here. And you could just eat yourself all the Dome Dogs and nachos you want and call it day. But the careful consideration applied to the rollout of food and your experience around it in Italy was one to relish. It’s also one that follows closely to what we see in any Syracuse basketball season.

The four meal parts to any proper Italian dinner, or Orange hoops season, are as follows:

My kind of Tuscan lunch. #italy #tuscany #meats #pork #mangia

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Antipasto/Apertivo

The non-conference schedule. For many years, SU had more of an apertivo here; an assortment of small and light beverages, plus minimal snacks. This part of the meal is a breeze, as were some of the Orange’s lighter previous schedules. Recent seasons have more resembled the antipasto — heavier, many times trending more toward charcuterie-type foods (or opponents, like we’ve seen with the likes of KU and others added). There’s an ease to be had there, but have the wrong strategy coming out of the gates, and you’re burning out right in that opening course.

Primo

Hot dishes that are usually pasta or another starch (but really, if you’re in Italy, you’re eating pasta, dammit). The type of starch and potential sauce elements can vary, but its construction still differs from your typical U.S. main course, which puts all the food groups on the plate at once. Syracuse’s lesser ACC opponents qualify as the primo. You CAN get fat on these teams if you want, and that doesn’t take away from the restaurant/season. But it’s still usually a precursor to the main event.

Secondo

Your meat -- both in terms of dinner and schedule. In the past, this was SU’s UConn/Georgetown/Villanova/(insert other occasional Big East power). Now, it’s Duke/Virginia/North Carolina/sometimes Louisville or Miami or Notre Dame. This is what you save room for -- the successful completion of these games. If you walk out of a restaurant having only gotten through these three courses, however, you may feel like the experience was incomplete. Same goes for the basketball season, obviously.

Dolce/Dessert

This is the finishing touch on the best restaurant experiences/seasons, obviously. The famed Italian desserts can push things from remembering that good restaurant one time, to never forgetting this place, where you had amazing X, Y and Z. You want the quality regular season, obviously. That’s what sets the stage for a better NCAA Tournament seeding, and what’s potentially a better conclusion. Sometimes, dessert can surprise you at the end of an okay meal (see: 2016 NCAA Tournament). But a bad dessert can also sour you on a great dinner (see: 2014 NCAA Tournament).

You look at this Syracuse basketball season, and it’s already clear we may have eaten a bit too much of the antipasto and didn’t chew the primo as well as we probably should have either. Still, we’ve saved enough room for the secondo -- this upcoming stretch starting with the UVA game on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A UVA win doesn’t mean the meat portion of the meal was a success. It just makes it more likely to be. It’s one part of the cooked portion; the balancing act between what you can do and what you need to do in order to get to the main event, the NCAA Tournament (dolce).

Incomplete meals have made most recent Orange seasons specialty restaurants, excelling at one part of the whole. Last year, SU hooked you with a daring start to the dinner, before falling flat in the latter portions. The 2015-2016 season was a forgettable meal until the dessert portion, which wowed and surprised. Back in 2014-15, SU didn’t even bother offering dessert. And 2013-14 was the ultimate frustration. A phenomenal first three courses, followed by a miserable dolce offering.

What kind of season/restaurant is 2017-18 shaping up to be? The antipasto was indicating a very positive experience, but the primo’s been questionable so far. Jim Boeheim isn’t even sure how well the secondo’s going to play out either -- though his standard’s probably somewhere around Delmonico’s or Bucca di Bepo.

Our standard may or may not be higher. Given the injuries and depth issues this year, should it be? No, this wasn’t just an excuse to share a couple photos from my trip. While traveling, I honestly thought about Syracuse far more than you’d assume, and also managed to drink at quite a few beer bars, too. Don’t @ me. Yes, I drank wine, too.