After much wait and tons of work over the break, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team is set to kick off its season this week with an exhibition game against Le Moyne on Thursday at the JMA Wireless Dome.
The Orange will begin their season with a new coach, almost an entirely new roster, and some elevated expectations compared to last year. Just four veterans remain from last year’s Syracuse team, with the Orange receiving nearly a complete personnel makeover. This season also marks year one of the Legette-Jack era in Syracuse, with the new head coach entering this week on the cusp of making her coaching debut for Syracuse after guiding the Buffalo Bulls to a successful run during her time there.
Syracuse is looking to bounce back after an underwhelming 2021-2022 campaign when the team went 11-18 overall and just 4-14 in the ACC.
There’s tons of information to pack, lots of questions to answer, and much to be excited about.
So, with the season set to begin in just a few days, let’s get to previewing everything you need to know for 2022-2023 Syracuse women’s basketball.
Big picture themes and areas of interest
The Orange enter this season with a new coach and 10 fresh faces making their debuts for the team. With the roster turnover and culture transformation, there are a lot of questions regarding how the on-the-court product will look.
If we had to keep things simple, here are the five most important things to watch:
1. Coach Legette-Jack: The former ‘Cuse alum enters this season after a successful ten-year stretch with the Bulls. In Buffalo, Legette-Jack guided the team to four NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Top-3 Mid-Atlantic Conference finishes, and a .638 winning percentage in the regular season. Now back in Syracuse, Legette-Jack will look to bring the Orange back to their historically-great success after a down year.
Coach Legette-Jack set the bar for her team at a recent press conference, where she emphasized defense, chemistry, and playing with a blue-collar mentality.
Since 2014, the Orange have earned berths to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last nine seasons. Minus last year’s campaign, Syracuse also finished .500 or better in every season since 2013.
Hiring Legette-Jack was a fantastic decision by Syracuse. One voter from The Athletic ranked coach Legette-Jack first on her Coach of the Year preseason ballot. Overall, she brings experience, leadership, and accountability the team desperately needed last year. Most importantly, she’s looking to establish an unselfish culture for the Orange.
“Our leaders are leading, and the people that need to do their roles are playing their roles,” said Legette-Jack. “When we kind of forget about what the “me” thing is and play this game and this purity, this team is just talented.”
Heading into this season, all eyes will be on coach Legette-Jack.
2. Dyaisha Fair: The former Bulls star jumped ship from Buffalo to Syracuse alongside coach Legette-Jack during the break. Fair enters this season already as one of the most anticipated women’s college basketball players to watch for. In recent weeks, she’s already been added to the watch list for the best point guard in the NCAA and the ACC Newcomer list, She was also considered one of The Athletic’s top 25 most intriguing players in women’s college basketball.
Fair is coming off finishing top-five in scoring in two of the past three years. She’s a talented player, capable of giving the Orange some much-needed offense without sacrificing much on defense. As one of the team captains for this season, she’ll be a critical leader for the Orange.
Fair’s success has been under the radar for almost all of her playing career. Expect her to become a big name for opponents to watch for.
3. The supporting cast: All eyes are on Fair, but it’ll be intriguing to see how the rest of Syracuse’s roster takes shape.
The Orange will enter this season with eight transfer players and two additional freshmen. It’s a team with a chip on its shoulders, with most of the players looking to find a new home after transferring to ‘Cuse.
It’ll be fascinating to see the different lineup combinations coach Legette-Jack can go to, how the players as a whole fit together, and when this team can finally gel together.
4. The defense: The defense was anything but a given for the Orange last season. For this year, it’s an undeniably critical component for Syracuse. Coach Legette-Jack made that point clear.
“Their story is going to be persistent and insistent through defense,” Legette-Jack said.
In 2021-2022, the Orange ranked as the worst defense in the ACC. Syracuse gave up 74.8 points per game against opponents, over four points higher than the second-worst defense in the conference.
This point has been made before, but the team lacked attitude, intensity, and toughness. Coach Legette-Jack is looking to be addressing those weaknesses during the break. Only time will tell if the Orange’s work behind the scenes will translate on the court this year.
5. The play against the ACC: We’ll get into breaking down Syracuse’s conference schedule, but the biggest priority for the Orange will be looking to return to relevance against the ACC.
Syracuse finished 4-14 overall in ACC play last year. At one point, the Orange lost six straight conference games and had a 1-8 stretch against the ACC. Additionally, all four wins against ACC opponents games were against the three-worst teams in the conference in 2021-2022 (Clemson, Virginia, and Pittsburgh twice). Against opponents with equal or better talent compared to the Orange, Syracuse didn’t stand a chance.
The framework for the team appears to be finalizing the rotation, getting the new players involved, seeing what works on the court, and setting a tone early in the season before Syracuse kicks off conference play.
The state of the roster
The returners: Nyah Wilson (guard), Teisha Hyman (guard), Ava Irvin (guard), Alaina Rice (guard)
The transfers: Olivia Owens (forward), Dyaisha Fair (guard), Georgia Woolley (guard), Cheyenne McEvans (guard), Aisa Strong (forward), Saniaa Wilson (forward), Kyra Wood (forward), Dariauna Lewis (forward)
The rookies: Kennedi Perkins (guard), Lexi McNabb (guard)
Syracuse’s schedule by the numbers
I’ve already broken down some of the biggest takeaways for the Orange’s 2022-2023 schedule, but let’s dive further into what Syracuse should expect on the docket for this season.
In total, Syracuse will compete in 29 total games this season, 18 of which are against the ACC.
Without a doubt, the beginning of the team’s schedule is relatively easy compared to the end, when the Orange will only be facing conference opponents. Syracuse will play nine of its first 12 games at the JMA Wireless Dome, with only one of those (against Wake Forest) taking place against an ACC team.
To start the season, there’s one stretch of the schedule I’m keeping my eyes on. Between November 21st and December 4th, the Orange will take on three non-conference but relevant teams all on the road: Penn State, Purdue (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), and Yale. These games will all take place just two weeks before Syracuse will take on ACC opponents from the end of December until the end of February. It will be a good litmus test to see how the team matches up against out-of-conference but competitive opponents with similar talent as Syracuse.
Focusing on the ACC, the Orange enter this season ranked 10th in the latest ACC preseason poll. The Orange will compete six times against the four teams (Louisville, Virginia Tech., NC State, Notre Dame, and North Carolina) in the ACC that received first-place votes from the conference’s Blue Ribbon Panel. Last season, nine teams in the conference finished above .500 against ACC teams.
Syracuse will face an uphill battle in conference play. Five teams earned nods on the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll. The ACC was the only conference in women’s basketball to land at least five teams in the top 15 of that poll. An additional two teams (Duke and Miami) were honorable mention candidates.
The most competitive stretch of the season will take place towards the end of the year, where Syracuse is set to take on Louisville, Virginia Tech., Boston College, and North Carolina in four-straight games.
Heading into this season, here’s a quick refresher on the projected finish for all teams in the ACC:
ACC Blue Ribbon Panel Predicted Order of Finish (60 total voters)
|Team||First-Place Votes||Total Points||AP Preseason Ranking|
|Team||First-Place Votes||Total Points||AP Preseason Ranking|
For the Orange, there’s both optimism and uncertainty given the current status of the team.
It’s tough to project how this team will ultimately perform. There are plenty of positives for Syracuse, from the addition of coach Legette-Jack and the boost in talent to the Orange’s easy slate to begin the season.
The ultimate test, as it always is, will be how Syracuse will compete within the conference.
Given the team’s recent history, it’s safe to say the Orange will fare well against non-conference opponents and be in a great position once ACC play kicks off. And, given that last year was a season from hell for ‘Cuse, I’d say the Orange are (at a bare minimum) a .500 team that could finish middle of the pack in the conference and push its way into the NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse needs to balance experimenting with all the new players and putting the best possible combinations on the court to give the team some guaranteed wins. That will ultimately determine if the Orange are ready to take on the best of the best teams in the ACC once the schedule really ramps up during the beginning of 2023.
There’s a lot to look forward to this season for the women’s basketball team. But, there are also some questions that will need to be answered on the court once the Orange kick things into high gear.
All signs are pointing to a bounce-back year. Let the basketball craziness begin.