Syracuse Basketball: 8 Must-Win Games on Orange's 2012-13 Schedule

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

Syracuse Basketball: 8 Must-Win Games on Orange's 2012-13 Schedule

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    With its 2012-13 schedule set, the Syracuse Orange basketball squad must gear up for another rigorous season that includes tough non-conference competition and the deep Big East slate.

    But which games are must-win contests?

    Overall, home games are much more important for NCAA tournament seeding and for morale. However, there are a couple of key road games on Syracuse's docket that Jim Boeheim must win.

    The Orange can't sleep on anybody, but there are a handful of games that the 'Cuse need more than others.

At Arkansas, November 30

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    In its first indoor road game of the season, it's important for Syracuse to win against a major non-conference foe.

    Under first-year head coach Mike Anderson, the Arkansas Razorbacks return all of their top performers from 2011-12, including dynamic duo Marshawn Powell and B.J. Young. Don't be surprised if they give the Orange a run for their money, especially if Jim Boeheim's club comes out cold on the road.

    Syracuse will be coming off a probable blowout over Colgate in the Carrier Dome, so it's crucial for them to travel to Fayetteville with a tough, focused approach.

    An early road win will set the tone for the rest of the non-conference schedule.

Home vs. Long Beach State, December 6

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    When the Orange host Big West foe Long Beach State December 6th, they'll be facing their trickiest home game prior to conference play.

    The 49ers put themselves on the map last season by upsetting several marquee programs, and they'll look to do the same in 2012-13.

    Just because they lost four starters doesn't mean they can't do damage. They reloaded, and Syracuse can't sleep on them. 

    Dan Monson's squad wants nothing more than to spoil Jim Boeheim's evening and send the Syracuse crowd home cranky.

Vs. Temple, December 22 (Madison Square Garden)

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    The inaugural Gotham City Classic in Madison Square Garden pits an outgoing Big East member against an incoming member.

    The Temple Owls are always a strong Atlantic-10 outfit, and they're used to playing non-conference games against power programs.

    Meanwhile, Syracuse will be defending its home away from home. If you've watched Orange hoops over the last few years, you know the Garden turns into an Orange-filled venue when Syracuse is in town. Syracuse is playing for pride in this event.

At South Florida, January 6

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    Although they graduated their top scorer Augustus Gilchrist, the South Florida Bulls will be a tough out in 2011-12. They return top rebounder Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, playmaker Victor Rudd Jr. and facilitator Anthony Collins.

    Stan Heath's Bulls host the Orange on January 6th, and the contest is Syracuse's first road game in conference play.

    Last time these two schools met on the hardwood, South Florida's defense almost tripped up the 'Cuse in the Carrier Dome.

    Syracuse needs to make a statement in its first road game of the Big East Conference schedule, reminding the Bulls of who's in charge of the league.

Home vs. Notre Dame, February 4

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    Mike Brey's Notre Dame Fighting Irish ended Syracuse's undefeated run last January at the Joyce Center.

    It was a glorious moment for the Green and Gold and a low-light for the Orange, to say the least.

    Losing on the road is one thing, but Syracuse can't afford to have the Irish come into town and steal a win from them. Home losses look much worse on the resume than road losses.

    Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas must put their feet down and shift the rivalry back in Boeheim's favor.

Home vs. Providence, February 20

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    They were a sub-.500 team in 2011-12, but the Providence Friars won't be pushed around so easily this upcoming winter.

    Ed Cooley's crew returns nearly all of its key players, and the squad will be  much more seasoned and ready for prime time. If Syracuse is caught flat-footed, an upset could be in the works.

    Even though they finished second-to-last in the Big East last season, Providence was in the top half of the conference in scoring. The trio of Vincent Council, LaDontae Henton and Bryce Coleman are back for more fireworks.

    Like most home games, this one is important for the Orange for the tournament resume's sake.

Home vs. Georgetown, February 23

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    Every showdown with Georgetown is a huge game, but when the Hoyas come to play in the Dome, it's more personal for everyone in 'Cuse nation, and it's more important for postseason seeding.

    In February of 2012, the Orange snuck past the Hoyas on the strength of Kris Joseph's clutch play and the contributions of Fab Melo and Dion Waiters.

    A new group of Syracuse leaders must step up and deal with Georgetown. If not, the 'Cuse will lose the upper hand in the rivalry.

    The Hoyas lost a couple of key players to the NBA, and the Orange lost a quartet of ballers to the pros as well. The team that's able to regroup faster is the one that will shine brighter next spring.

Home vs. Louisville, March 2

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    In its second-to-last home game of the season, Syracuse will encounter the defending Big East champs of 2011-12.

    A win against Rick Pitino's Louisville squad would put extra wind in the Orange's sails as the regular season wraps up and the postseason approaches.

    The Cardinals return almost all of the stars from their 2012 Final Four run, including shooters Kyle Kuric and Russ Smith, playmaker Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng.

    A home loss against Louisville would be a crummy way to start March, but beating Pitino and company would be a big boost heading into the conference tournament.

    For more 'Cuse, NCAA and NBA coverage, follow Daniel on Twitter: @Danielobleacher