Coming off a scintillating dismantling of Canadian national champion Carleton College, the Syracuse Orange have a rare opportunity when it faces the Virginia Cavaliers on November 6th in the Dome: defeat back-to-back national champions.
In fact, I’m not sure if it has ever happened before. It’s certainly possible that a similar situation could have happened, especially since Carleton has won 14 of the last 17 Canadian championships and often plays against D1 schools in exhibition, but a cursory glance at past opponents doesn’t show any other similar opportunities.
And yes, before you ask, I do realize that Carleton and Virginia aren’t exactly the same level of competition. That said, Carleton did go 8-1 this preseason prior to playing Syracuse, including wins over D1 opponents USF and Albany, and a three point loss to Valparaiso.
So what does this crazy opportunity mean for Syracuse basketball? Well, nothing really, other than bragging rights and the fact that it would be pretty darn cool! Not to mention, it would also allow us to take some sweet, sweet revenge against Virginia, who hit 18 3’s and shot a ridiculous, outrageous 75% from 3-point range the last time they were in the Dome in March. Seriously, who does that?
Here’s hoping we return the favor and absolutely obliterate them. And the truth is, it could happen. I’m not saying it will, but it’s certainly possible. Virginia lost Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter to the NBA. Although Mamadi Diakite returns and will probably be a strong inside focal point of their offense, there are question marks as to who else will step up offensively.
I think a lot of Virginia’s success will predicate on how well their new backcourt plays. They are stout in the front court with Diakite, Sam Hauser, and Jay Huff. But how do players like Braxton Key, Kihei Clark, and newcomers like Chase Coleman and Casey Morsell fit in? It could take some time for them to figure things out.
We know that Virginia’s pack line defense will make things challenging for the Orange, but getting them as the season opener just feels like the perfect opportunity to catch them before that defense has a chance to gel, and before they are able to develop an offensive identity.
Of course, the flip side to that is that Syracuse is obviously still looking to develop an identity as well, and also lost Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Frank Howard; three of their top scoring threats.
But for whatever reason, this Syracuse basketball team feels different.
Whether it’s the calm, cool Elijah Hughes directing the team and draining deep threes, or Marek Dolezaj making plays and hustling to loose balls, there is a certain energy about this year. Gone are the days (hopefully) of Battle, Brissett, and Howard pounding the rock at the top of the key for 20 seconds before forcing up an off-balance, toe-on-the-line two that more often than not turned into a fast break the other way.
This team plays like a... well, a team. Let’s hope that continues in the regular season. This Syracuse basketball squad can only be successful if they are unselfish and willing to make plays for others. They can’t plod along and force isolation in hopes of making a contested shot or awkward drive as the shot clock expires like they did last year. I’m optimistic that won’t happen, or at least, not as much, with so many scoring options.
But I digress.
Let’s focus first on beating Virginia and claiming our place in the annals of history as a back-to-back champion de-throner. Then we can discuss what comes next.
[and if you’re still looking into attending the game on Wednesday night, consider looking here for your tickets]