The 2019-20 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season continues as SU welcomes their long-time local rival Colgate Raiders to the Dome. This isn’t your older sibling’s Colgate team though as the Raiders are the defending Patriot League champions and gave the Tennessee Volunteers a scare in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
We asked Eric Fishbin, Sports Editor at Colgate’s student paper The Colgate Maroon-News to tell us more about this year’s Raiders squad.
Syracuse and Colgate are long-time rivals and with the Orange winning 53 in a row a lot of people will view this as another game Syracuse should easily win. What gives this Colgate team the best chance to break this streak and why do you think Syracuse fans could be nervous about this game?
To be honest, there is a different kind of swagger to this team than in years past. Even the new Under Armor uniforms are giving off that kind feel. Buddies of mine on campus were joking, after the latest round of the “when are we going to pay college athletes?” debate, about where to find a Jordan Burns jersey.
If there is something for Syracuse fans to worry about, it is the Raider’s confidence. But confidence can be tricky and it is not always as rewarding as it promises upfront. Still this starting five can shoot threes effectively and coach Langel runs a legitimate defense — for me, that’s a strong recipe in college basketball.
Losing enforcer center Dana Batt from last year’s roster may turn out to be a bigger loss than traditional statistics might indicate, but the backcourt has shown flashes of something special; Jordan Burns and Nelly Cummings have a chemistry that is palpable and their complementary veteran front court comprising seniors Will Rayman and Rapolas Ivanauskas is a cause for concern. Colgate, all of a sudden, is a top team in the Patriot League and we will see how they handle the pressure.
Colgate’s team is a lot more experienced than Syracuse and has the top three scorers returning from last year’s NCAA team. Do you expect the Raiders to attack inside with Rapolas Ivanauskas or will they look to set up Jordan Burns and Will Rayman on the perimeter?
Boeheim’s lengthy and athletic zone is patented in college basketball, but its taught early that it takes good shooting to break that kind of defense. If Burns and Cummings can find their shot early in the Carrier Dome, not the easiest place to hit the deep ball, then I think that Rap and Rayman will be able to do some damage on the inside. The team had trouble working on the inside against Clemson on Sunday, so maybe that will be the emphasis on Wednesday. But we will see. Either way, Colgate needs to make shots to challenge Syracuse, otherwise it will be a long night and the Orange’s win streak will continue.
For a team that was a healthy Ivanauskas away from winning a NCAA Tournament game last year, what’s the buzz in Hamilton around this team?
The team seems to have the best starting five in the Patriot League; if they are able to ride the hot hand for each game, it looks like they will be on their way to another Patriot League Championship. But, these guys cannot get to far ahead of themselves. And I think coach Langel has a commanding hold on the team; they seem locked in this year. Last year showed promise, but I think an ambitious goal for this year, even though they will not be seen as a candidate for an upset, should be to take a game against a power five conference team. If not early in the season, and they have plenty of chances, then ideally if the opportunity comes in March.
Still, I think “a healthy Ivauaskas away” might be a bit of a stretch, though there is no doubt he would have made the second half more challenging for Tennessee. A quick story about that mysterious NCAA Tournament injury. My friend Jeremy drove from Hamilton to Columbus with a few other guys and he was paranoid about being able to see the game, so he brought two or three extra pairs of contact lenses just in case. He was in the stands behind the Colgate bench during the game when he read twitter reports saying Rap was having problems with his contacts, and then he raced down to offer the spare pair. They did not have the same prescription, but he got them all the way to the trainer. It could have been the difference…
Anyway, there is excitement around the team around campus and the village. The home opener in Cotterell had great energy; three banners celebrating last year’s historic season were revealed by President Brian Casey, coach Langel and Athletic Director Nicki Moore. It was exciting to see Cummings and Burns in the backcourt together. I think watching each game could look a little different since each player in the starting five could pace the scoring.
I saw ESPN had ranked Colgate as a 14-seed in a recent projected bracket; I cannot see them that high up unless they run the table in the Patriot League, and maybe take one of the next few games against Syracuse or Auburn. Still, if all goes right and they even get there, a Tournament win would be a great result for the program. And in March, stranger things have happened than a Patriot League team winning a game or two. We will see what happens.
The Raiders beat NJIT 80-75 in their opener. Does that close game give Matt Langel and his staff any concerns as they start the year?
NJIT guard Zach Cooks was shooting the lights out and making plays for his team and was a fun visiting player to watch. After the first half, it looked like Colgate was one run away from taking control of things for good. They had an 11-0 run early on and went up by 19 points.
After that, minutes were spread around and the lead disappeared more quickly than expected. That might be something to take note of. Late in the game and before the Raiders went back up, when Ivanauskas subbed back in between free throw attempts, Cooks signaled to the NJIT bench and they shuffled to make adjustments. I thought that was a telling moment.
They got the win, and even though it is not a Patriot League game, it is nice to see the result and the win column start to fill. In the opener, they had clear moments of really high quality basketball. Other times they would look a bit hesitant, just lost and searching for someone to take control.
The banners celebrating last year went up, but this team needs to turn the page and lock in for what lies ahead. Coach Langel will have a lot of tape to look at from the first game.
Bowling Green transfer Nelly Cummings had 16 points in his Colgate debut. Do you expect him to be “Hot in Herre” in this one or will the 2-3 zone prove to be a “Dilemma”?
Nelly passed the eye test in the home opener, there is no doubt. His ability to make difficult shots in the paint, as well as knock down mid-rangers and three pointers, paired with a natural motivated attitude on defense should alert opposing guards.
I heard him say in an interview after the game that sitting out a full year was one of the hardest challenges he faced; as someone who seems to just love basketball, he clearly wants to be out there and competing with his teammates.
And it showed against NJIT. His first shot, a baseline jumper, barely touched the net. Then, he had the play of the game late in the second half to put the Raiders back up — with under four minutes to go, Colgate’s 19-point lead evaporated and NJIT went up by one, Nelly drove left acrobatically, and with his body facing away from the basket, flipped an underhand layup off the glass using his right.
We will see what he can do game by game, but the hope is that his performance against NJIT was an indication of what is in store. He took a step back against Clemson, but it was a challenging match up. It will be interesting to watch he and Jordan Burns develop as a backcourt pair throughout the season and how that might benefit other players on the floor.
What’s your prediction for the game?
It depends what kind of game it turns out to be. If Burns and Nelly and Co. are having a three-point fest countering the lengthy Syracuse zone, then the Orange might be in trouble. If the zone starts to open, Ivanauskas and Rayman should capitalize.
The challenge is for Colgate will be on the defensive end. This is not the stingy Virginia Cavaliers defense the Orange are facing. Colgate worked hard against NJIT, but having someone like Cooks go off for 23 points and letting a 19-point lead slide late in the second half will not lead to the same result against power five teams like Cuse.
I think Colgate will challenge Syracuse, but ultimately it is too early for the team to get a road win of this magnitude. If this game was later in the year, I might say something different. But for right now, I think Syracuse takes this one 74-67.
Thanks again for Eric for taking time to respond. Be sure to check out The Colgate Maroon-News for all your Hamilton, NY news.