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Syracuse women’s basketball: confidence is at an all-time high in the Felisha Legette-Jack era

Something special is brewing in the 315.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC/SEC Challenge-Alabama at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

You never want to jinx anything, but it’s hard not to do so with this year’s Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (11-1, 1-0) who just defeated the #13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 86-81 at home.

The win — Syracuse’s second over a ranked opponent in the Felisha Legette-Jack era and first against Notre Dame since January 2021 — is more than just a resume builder. It’s a complete confidence boost for the future of this program under Legette-Jack, who has achieved (I would argue) one of the fastest turnarounds in Syracuse Athletics history.

Keep this in mind: Notre Dame entered the New Year’s Eve clash versus the Orange with the fifth-highest NET in the NCAAW (first in the ACC). Syracuse just scored 86 points against a Fighting Irish team that held opponents under 57 points through their first ten games. After being outscored in both fourth quarters in Syracuse’s two matchups versus Notre Dame last year, the Orange outscored the Fighting Irish 25-16 to earn their first ranked win of the 2023-2024 season.

Syracuse already has more Q1 wins this season than it did in all of last year, and it’s only January. The Orange will enter their next game versus #24 North Carolina with the second-largest active win streak (eight) in the ACC, and the team’s bracketology outlook will certainly see a big bump once that comes out.

All of it is impressive, especially when you look at the bigger picture — Syracuse’s 11-1 start is the best since the 2015-2016 season, when the program reached the NCAA Championship.

Is that same run going to happen this time around? Obviously, it is way too early to tell especially with two more months of ACC regular season action and a conference tournament to get through. But, this team has certainly proved to go beyond its preseason expectations and, without a doubt, has embraced Legette-Jack’s values of character, academics and basketball.

Dyaisha Fair moved up to 18th on the NCAAW’s all-time scoring list and hit multiple timely threes to keep Syracuse ahead in the game’s final minutes. Bringing Fair back for her fifth season has proven to be vital, especially in that Notre Dame game.

But this year’s team goes beyond Fair. Georgia Woolley and Kyra Wood, who (like Fair) formerly played for Legette-Jack with the Buffalo Bulls, are transforming into legitimate two-way starters. Considering all three made the jump from the MAC to the ACC (which currently projects to have ten NCAA Tournament-worthy teams this year), the growth of all three of them remains impressive.

On that note, Legette-Jack has proven this season to make the most out of what she’s got. She played backup guard Kennedi Perkins for pretty much the entire fourth quarter against Notre Dame, and her energy and ball movement kept Syracuse’s offense alive. Saniaa Wilson continues to be a reliable backup forward who gives the Orange some much-needed rebounding and scoring around the rim. Alaina Rice is shooting the lights out of the ball and is still Syracuse’s third-leading scorer through 12 games.

And then, there’s Alyssa Latham — Legette-Jack’s highest-ranked recruit from the class of 2023 who finished with her fifth double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks) against an experienced and physically tough Notre Dame team.

Together, this team just has way more depth and versatility compared to last season. The Orange’s guards (namely Fair, Rice and Perkins) are playing bigger than their height, Latham is continuing her phenomenal freshman year and the team’s forwards in general (especially Wood and Wilson) are turning into legitimate anchors on both ends of the court.

Also, Syracuse’s resume — which was already in a good spot before playing Notre Dame — will only get better from here. After getting fringe consideration in the last few AP polls, Sunday’s win should (you would think...) put the Orange close or in the top-25.

If there’s one thing to takeaway from what was a special New Year’s Eve for the program, it’s how remarkable the turnaround has been under Legette-Jack. Look at this team now compared to two years ago, and the difference is night and day.

Entering the new year, let’s just say there’s a lot to be excited about regarding this program.