We’ve already heard the question in Central New York, one that seems to come up every October, “When’s basketball season?” And that statement doesn’t just apply to the Syracuse Orange men’s team, but the top-25 women’s squad as well.
Since arriving in 2006, Coach Quentin HIllsman has put this program on the map. And in the best conference in basketball, he’s established a winning culture that’s made his team extremely fun to watch. This is the fifth time in six years the Orange are ranked in the preseason, which credits not only the success of previous seasons, but also this year’s talent.
The offseason hasn’t been without struggle, however. ACC player of the year contender Tiana Mangakahia will miss the season as she deals with her breast cancer treatment and recovery. Tiana finished her last chemo treatment earlier this month, but will redshirt this season. Syracuse will need previous role players step up, as they will have one of the toughest schedules in the country. Six teams from the ACC rank in the top 25, and all finished last year ranked as well.
As of right now, the Orange will play these teams ranked in the top 25: Oregon, Michigan, Michigan State, Louisville (2x), Florida State, Notre Dame (2x) and Miami. Oregon starts the year as the No. 1 team in the land, and is likely to ranked that way when they arrive at the Dome for game four of SU’s season. This contest could be one Syracuse tries to brand up pretty big to break the attendance record since it’s early in the year, a reasonable tip time (4 p.m. ET), and they’ll likely be 3-0 with the first three games being against Ohio, Maryland Eastern, and UAlbany. beforehand.
Players to Watch:
Emily Engstler will claim a much bigger role as her sophomore campaign gets underway. The former 5-star recruit averaged just 4.9 ppg a year ago, but expect those numbers to rise as she will be the go-to scoring option with Tiana our for the year. She’s a fantastic rebounder and shot blocker, and the 6-1 guard can be a threat from three. The transition from high school to college basketball may not have been a smooth one for Emily, but with one year under her belt, expect her to log big minutes and obtain big numbers.
Kiara Lewis was the back-up point guard to Mangakahia last year, but will now be thrust into the starting role for a team with very big goals. She was expected to get big minutes this year regardless as the shifty point guard showed flashes of dominance last year, but this is a whole new beast. The redshirt junior from Chicago represented the Orange at ACC Media day, and her confidence going into this year should give ‘Cuse fans hope for the year, even if we won’t have our best player. The former Gatorade player of the year transferred to Syracuse after a year at Ohio State, and averaged 22 minutes per game. Her 8 points per game last year are more impressive when you discover that she played primarily off ball.
Games to Highlight:
- November 24 vs. No. 1 Oregon
- December 5 vs. No. 25 Michigan (ACC/B1G Challenge)
- December 20 vs. No. 17 Michigan State
- December 29 at No. 9 Louisville
- January 5 at No. 16 Notre Dame
- February 9 at No. 9 Louisville
- February 23 at No. 16 Notre Dame
Season Outlook and Prediction
ESPN’s Charlie Creme has Syracuse has a 7-seed in the Greenville Region on his preseason bracket. With SU’s strength of schedule and the loss of Tiana Mangakahia, this actually makes a lot of sense. The Orange, however, have an opportunity to make a lot of noise and become kind of that team of destiny as they play this season in honor of Tiana’s continued fight against cancer.
With her on the bench every game, it’s essentially like adding another assistant coach — a coach that just so happens to be one of the best players in college basketball. This team has loads of talent and a coach like HIllsman, who knows how to garner the trust in his players. I think this team gets a 4-seed, and I would also put Oregon on upset alert on November 24. Syracuse will be looking for an identity early, but they have every opportunity to find it early on.