After struggling to put two solid halves together in their first four games, the No. 4 Syracuse Orange are starting to hit their stride.
Fresh off of claiming the Maui Invitational title with a convincing 74-67 win over No. 18 Baylor on Thanksgiving Eve, Syracuse (7-0) will once again get an opportunity to represent the new-look ACC in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with a home game against Indiana.
The emotions of winning an early-season tournament can sometimes drain a team. Playing in the Maui Invitational adds a little more to that exhaustion. Combined with the long travel during a holiday and playing three games in three nights is the adjustment to the five-hour time difference after adjusting in Maui for a week.
It would seem that the trap is set for a letdown against Indiana, but maybe not so much.
Indiana (6-1) is the best rebounding team in the nation and is burning up the nets with 86.4 points per game. The Hoosiers have eclipsed 100 points three times already this season and their only blemish is one-point loss to No. 12 UConn at Madison Square Garden in the finals of the 2K Sports Classic.
That UConn game was a defensive battle in which Indiana struggled to make shots. Looking back to last season when Syracuse took out Indiana in the Sweet 16 with a tremendous defensive effort, the Orange may be licking their chops to get a chance to show their own defensive intensity.
It doesn’t hurt that the Orange have had a six-day layoff since Maui.
So, if this isn’t a trap, what is?
Traps generally happen when a team is either coming off an emotional high from an intense game or when it is playing a perceived inferior opponent and looking ahead to a big matchup. In trap games, we see teams come out flat, uninspired and sometimes unprepared.
There aren’t many, if any, teams left on the Orange’s schedule they can overlook. The schedule makers didn’t do Syracuse any favors in the timing of certain games either.
Let’s take a look at the potential trap games on the Syracuse schedule.
With Big South Conference foes such as the Campbell Camels and the Presbyterian Blue Hose, High Point’s competition isn’t much to look at, but a Dec. 5 trip to Georgetown and a Dec. 20 trip to Syracuse loom as the Panthers' (3-3) only significant out-of-conference games.
For Syracuse, two former rivals bookend the High Point game. A Dec. 15 game against old foe St. John’s at Madison Square Garden and a Dec. 28 matchup against No. 14 Villanova are big games considering the St. John’s game is the Orange’s only trip to MSG this season and the out-of-nowhere Villanova Wildcats are the last significant tuneup game before the ACC schedule starts.
The Panthers are not a good team by ACC standards, but they make over 50 percent of their shots.
And this is how a trap game happens.
On New Year’s Eve, Syracuse gets one of those pesky MAC teams, the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Syracuse will be coming off their matchup against No. 14 Villanova on two days' rest and will be looking forward to their ACC debut on Jan. 4 at Miami.
Eastern Michigan (5-1) has played formidably this season, with their only loss coming against No. 3 Kentucky.
By the time the Eagles go to Syracuse, they will have faced the aforementioned Kentucky, No. 21 Massachusetts and at No. 10 Duke, which will be their game that leads up to Syracuse.
Nothing can prepare a team to play in the cavernous Carrier Dome, but a game at Cameron Indoor might be enough to put a little grizzle on the Eagles and take away any jitters that might come with playing a top-10 team.
Not to be forgotten is head coach Rob Murphy, who was an understudy of Jim Boeheim's from 2004-2011.
Smells like a trap.
Syracuse will travel to Wake Forest (6-2) on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
This will be followed by Syracuse’s first-ever conference game against Duke, at home, on Saturday, Feb. 1, which should be the highest attended on-campus game in NCAA history.
This will be followed by a Monday home game against a tough Notre Dame club, giving Syracuse three games in six days.
While Wake Forest will be no slouch, it will be hard to imagine Syracuse not looking ahead to the Duke game.
In a similar situation to the Wake Forest game, Feb. 19 will see Boston College kick off another three-game swing in six days for the Orange.
This time, Syracuse will follow its home game against BC with a trip to Cameron Indoor to face Duke on Feb. 22.
Considering that the Orange have played in hostile environments almost anytime they go on the road, specifically to schools such as Georgetown and Connecticut, it would take an extraordinary venue to get in the Orange players’ heads.
Cameron Indoor is extraordinary.
Two days later, a potentially exhausted Syracuse team will travel to College Park to face Maryland in a classic trap game, especially if Syracuse pulls out the win at Duke.