When Tiana Mangakahia announced that she’d return to the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team for her final season, it’s understandable that expectations were ratcheted up a notch or two. In a very early look by ESPN, we see just how much.
On Monday morning, Charlie Creme posted his way-too-early Top 25 for 2019-20; a list that includes Syracuse all the way up at No. 10. Creme had this to say about SU:
“Tiana Mangakahia’s decision to come back for her senior season puts the Orange in a position to challenge for ACC title next season. Mangakahia (16.9 PPG, 8.4 APG) led Syracuse in scoring and was second in the country in assists and should be on most preseason All-America lists. Syracuse loses second-leading scorer and top 3-point threat Miranda Drummond (11.3 PPG), but the next seven top scorers return for Quentin Hillsman’s deep rotation. A big improvement from Emily Engstler, who was a top recruit a year ago but had an up-and-down freshman season, would give the Orange offense a big boost.”
The rankings also represent a low-key sea change for the ACC, as Syracuse is the highest-ranked squad in the conference here, just edging out Florida State at No. 11. For the last five seasons, Notre Dame and Louisville have sat at the top of the pile in the ACC. And while they were dominant once again in 2018-19, there were signs that the next tier was starting to close some of the gap. The Cardinals (14th) and Fighting Irish (17th) are still right in the thick of the action, however. NC State (25th) and Miami (also receiving consideration) are also lurking around.
It’s certainly very early, but Syracuse could potentially inhabit the new role of being the favorite in the league. That’s weird... but also fitting given the talent Quentin Hillsman’s team returns. Expectations have never been higher for the Orange women’s squad — even following the 2016 Final Four run.
A lot can change, of course, between now and when the season starts in over five months. However, expect to be hearing a lot more about this Syracuse team in that time as they settle into the unfamiliar role of favorite.