While some might consider it “tough” or “unfavorable,” the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball schedule is full of challenges (and opportunities). Playing in one of — if not the best — conference in women’s college basketball, the Orange are set to face numerous tests in the 2018-19 season. Six ACC teams were included in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, including defending National Champion Notre Dame (No. 1) and Louisville (No. 5) book-ending the nation’s top five.
No. 18 Syracuse will not see either of those two teams until the calendar flips to February 2019, but even so, the Orange will be tested out of the gate. Through its first two weeks of the season, ‘Cuse will meet with three top-20 ranked teams: No. 3 Oregon, No. 20 Texas A&M, and No. 15 DePaul.
Coach Q and the Orange return to action on Tuesday in a home game versus North Dakota. Four days later, the Orange will hit the court in Eugene, Ore. to clash with the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Oregon was bounced by Notre Dame in the Elite Eight round of last year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, and are headlined by triple-double machine Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu is entering her junior season and already has numerous accolades racked up: All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation’s top point guard, among others. She has notched 10 triple-doubles in two seasons, and she received 29 of 31 possible first-place votes for last season’s All-American team.
“Oregon’s going to be tough,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman reinforced to TNIAAM in an interview this preseason. “We took (that game) for a reason. We wanted to get tested early. We want to play tough games.”
Against the Aggies
Four days after the test in Oregon, Syracuse hits College Station, Tex. to match up with the No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies.
The Aggies also lost to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament. They were the No. 4 seed that Notre Dame ran through before taking down Oregon in the Elite Eight round. A&M sophomore guard Chennedy Carter received a vote to the AP Preseason All-American team after posting 22.7 points per game as a freshman — ranking sixth in the NCAA.
“We’re excited about that game,” Coach Q said. “There are a lot of games early in the season that will test us, and we’ll see where we are right away.”
The Final Trial
Anyone down for a vacation to Cancun in November? While that sounds enticing, the Orange will travel there for work purposes during Thanksgiving week. While in Mexico., Syracuse will meet Kansas State, Princeton, and No. 15 DePaul.
Continuing the theme of these teams being threaded together, DePaul lost to Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The defending Big East champions return a young team with six freshman on roster. Leeading scorer Mart’e Grays (14.4 ppg) returns for her senior season. Four of five Blue Demon starters are returning — the lone departure is Amarah Coleman (12.5 ppg).
Setting Up Early
The early test of facing three ranked opponents in two weeks could benefit the Orange regardless of outcome. Considering, five other teams from the ACC are ranked, including two teams in the top five, the Orange are going to face a similar level of talent early on from three different echelons: Top-five (Oregon), top-15 (DePaul), and top-20 (Texas A&M).
Hillsman has depth to test against these opponents. With all five starters returning, Syracuse brought in the No. 8 recruiting class in the country, per ESPN. 2017-2018 New York State Player of the Year Emily Engstler, among others, enters the rotation as a freshman.
“Everyone played a ton of minutes last year,” Coach Q said. “Minutes will be taken down, there’s no question. We have a lot more depth... an influx of talent. It’s important that we’re able to get (our starters) off the floor and play multiple players.”
Coach Q spoke confidently about his freshmen, from what he has seen in practice.
“Emily (Engstler) has been great,” Q noted. “Obviously, she has to get used to the pace of the game. I think that’s the biggest thing for her. Other players (redshirt freshmen Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi and Marie-Paule Foppossi) were sitting out or they have playing experience coming into this season. Whenever you have players that can get down the court and play well, you have a chance to be pretty good.”
Engstler is the only import that will occupy playing time right off the high school hardwood in 2018.
“We’ll be ready to play,” Hillsman said. “We’re going to be eager to go into these atmospheres to play well.”
READ: TNIAAM’s Syracuse women’s basketball 2018-2019 season preview.