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Preseason NIT field makes non-conference scheduling harder for Syracuse

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a waste of time.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgetown Art Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to engage in a good scheduling rant. And though this one’s about the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team and not the football team, it’ll still do the job.

On Wednesday, Jon Rothstein reported that the final 2019 Preseason NIT team will be the Penn State Nittany Lions. As you may recall, Syracuse is already a participant in that event, along with the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Ole Miss Rebels. While we’re still in the middle of THIS season, that doesn’t mean much... except for the fact that it makes the 2019-20 schedule tougher to adequately complete.

We talked about this topic during the last Georgetown game, too. With a 20-game ACC schedule coming, that’s one fewer home game, for one. But it also picks off two non-conference slots. Add Cornell and Colgate each year for 22 games covered, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for 23. Assuming you add Georgetown again next year, there’s 24.

The two Preseason NIT games we’ll get next year makes for 26. Many early-season tournaments include a couple neutral-site games, so make it 28 most years.

You see the problem by now, hopefully.

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

That’s three games left to schedule some combination of Buffalo or St. Bonaventure and/or a couple bodybags. After most early-season tournaments, that’s fine. After this one — an event with Syracuse as the only “marquee” name — that’s a bit more problematic. Even with a great Big Ten opponent scheduled (no guarantee there), a lack of an SOS-boosting name in the Preseason NIT likely means the Orange are searching for another bigger name to help. Typically when we enter into one of these events, at least one other team brings some sort of cache to the table.

Now admittedly, this could also be concern over nothing. The 20-game ACC schedule means at least one more “quality” opponent on the slate, which could potentially balance things out given the caliber of opponent those teams are probably replacing (lesser low-majors) for SU. Lacking a top-25ish team in non-conference play could be balanced out by the ACC schedule pretty well most years.

Still, non-conference SOS does factor in for NCAA Tournament selection. It did for us last year. And it could again in the future. Two non-conference games against teams like OK State or Ole Miss (yes, acknowledging the Rebels being a tourney-caliber team this year) or a typically putrid Penn State doesn’t help that at all. It may actually hurt, if not for being at the neutral site of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

[before you start yelling about Syracuse’s 105-game basketball history with Penn State, it doesn’t matter and hasn’t since Jim Boeheim took over the program, hence why we haven’t played since 1982]

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This also gets into the math of how Syracuse is able to balance the books in the ACC, where it’s a plane ride away from most other schools, so they’re spending more money on travel right off the bat.

In previous years, the team could bank on between 18 and 19 home games: Nine in the ACC and usually between nine and 10 non-conference. With the ACC expanding to 20 games, subtract one home game in league play right off the bat. The potential need to add another quality opponent given the Preseason NIT field could subtract another game from the Dome’s gate receipts, too. That money helps pay for a lot... like the grueling conference travel schedule.

I fully trust Kip Wellman knows exactly what he’s doing, and will figure out a schedule that both makes financial sense for Syracuse and also helps get them into the March Madness field. He already But had has his work cut out for him in 2019-20. Now, there are some additional hoops to jump through to make sure the Orange have the required non-conference resume.