While the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is still months from getting back on the court, the 2020-21 non-conference schedule is already starting to take shape. In fact, we already know at least three teams on the list.
The Georgetown Hoyas are obvious given the four-year deal currently in place. And as part of the Gotham Classic, SU will also face the LSU Tigers at Madison Square Garden. That event will also include a recently reported home matchup with the Mercer Bears. And if previous formats hold, we’ll also see Green Bay and Jacksonville State visit the Dome as well.
Yes, Georgetown’s a very common opponent for the Orange, but everyone else provides a bit more variety than perhaps we’re used to in Syracuse hoops schedules. SU hasn’t faced LSU since 1985. They’ve never faced Mercer or Jacksonville State. Their last matchup with Green Bay was in 2000.
So that got me thinking who else we’d want to play this coming season — specifically if we’re looking to match the variety displayed thus far.
Admittedly, a lot of games are already accounted for, with four in the Gotham Classic, plus Georgetown. And then you factor in Colgate and Cornell, along with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent and we’re already at eight out of 11 non-conference matchups.
Taking things one by one around what we don’t know just yet:
Big Ten Challenge foe
Syracuse fell by 14 to Iowa in last year’s event, and this year’s will take place away from the Dome. While they don’t always have teams alternate home and away dates, it’s something the event does strive for. They also try to match teams pretty evenly when possible, while also avoiding too many repeat matchups.
The Orange have already faced Wisconsin twice, so they’re probably off the board, as is Iowa. Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State and Rutgers all seem to fit the bill, though we just faced the Buckeye in Columbus a couple years ago. That makes me think it’s probably Rutgers, given the proximity of the two schools and the Scarlet Knights’ success in 2019-20. If we’re looking at the game we “want,” it’s probably Michigan.
And what about the other three spots?
Getting four foes out of one event — and only having one of them (LSU) being all that formidable — creates an interesting challenge for the rest of the slate. On the one hand, you don’t want to over-tax a team that seems likely to struggle early with Elijah Hughes testing the NBA Draft waters. On the other, if the ACC’s down again, you may not have the schedule strength to get back into the NCAA Tournament conversation through conference play.
At least one of Georgetown, Rutgers and LSU could be a crapshoot in terms of how good they’ll look on a resume next year (though for what it’s worth, all were top 70 in 2019-20, per KenPom). So realistically, it may benefit SU to add another reasonably sized name to the list.
I know many in this group probably wants that “reasonably sized” name to be UConn, but there’s no value to going to Storrs or Hartford now or in the future and as we’ve discussed before, this matchup really only benefits the Huskies. Providence is perhaps an option, though not one anyone’s chomping at the bit for. Villanova is probably a bit too much for this team that early in the season. The only reason we were scheduling St. John’s was to be in New York City, and we’ve made that happen in other ways recently.
So with most former Big East foes probably out of the question, and B1G schools probably out too, I’m tossing in a few “different” names that we don’t normally play but could fit the bill.
Bigger names: Arizona, Butler, Florida, Kentucky, Marquette, UCLA, West Virginia
Fully aware that Arizona or UCLA are likely not happening because there’s little value in the trip for either end of the deal, Jim Boeheim’s actively cut down on cross-country travel for this program in recent years and SU’s already grueling travel for ACC play also nixes it. Still, would be fun and interesting, which is the point of this exercise.
UK and Florida should both create some intrigue — and for the Wildcats, they get the added bonus of potentially handing us the attendance crown by going to the Dome game. Marquette and Butler carry slightly more weight than Cincy and Xavier, and there’s some (very different) history to reference with both. WVU’s the easiest sell for me (and probably SU), despite the hoops series with the ‘Eers never mattering as much as football.
If you pick any of the teams above, you can probably skip to the locals section for the other two games.
Interesting names: Akron, Cincinnati, Richmond, VCU, Vermont, Xavier
I know, violated one of the top rules of Syracuse fandom by mentioning Richmond AND Vermont in a single sentence. Still, they’re interesting options for scheduling because you don’t need to book a return game yet still get credit for beating a good team (assuming you do). Akron’s another that has less cache but is still decent numbers-wise. You could go on the road to VCU later if you want, but don’t have to. Xavier or Cincinnati would be home-and-home series, but that’s not terrible to get exposure in Ohio.
Locals we don’t play often: Albany, Binghamton, Columbia, Fordham, Hofstra, Stony Brook
Yes, seems weird, but we don’t really face any of these New York schools much. Hofstra probably has the most upside from a numbers perspective since the Pride are usually fairly respectable in the CAA. You could face Hofstra AND another one of these teams, plus a name from the “interesting” list above and call it a day.
How about you? Like these ideas? Hate them? Yell about it in the comments below.