The No. 2 Syracuse Orange enter 2014 as one of seven undefeated teams in Division I. With quality wins over such opponents as Villanova, Baylor, Indiana, Minnesota, California and St. John’s, the Orange used the early season to fine-tune their team in preparation for play in a new conference.
Syracuse, meet the ACC.
On Jan. 4, Miami (8-5, 0-1 ACC) will travel to Syracuse (13-0, 0-0) to play the first ever ACC conference game at the Carrier Dome. Miami and Syracuse’s next opponent, Virginia Tech, are old Big East foes of the Orange, but not necessarily marquee matchups.
Jan. 11, however, will be the first of a handful of dream games, as Roy Williams and his No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels will travel to Syracuse to play in front of a crowd that is sure to top 30,000.
Beyond playing the likes of Miami, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Duke twice, Syracuse will play every team in the ACC at least once.
Before the season began, the ACC looked like it might be the best conference in the nation and something to be feared, but with only three ranked teams, the might of the top-heavy ACC may have been a bit overstated.
The ACC is still a talented conference, but its depth is not at the level which Syracuse has grown accustomed to over the last 30-plus years in the Big East. Next season, Louisville will replace Maryland in the ACC, adding to the cream at the top.
For now, Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Florida State look to be about as tough as it will get for the Orange.
Barring injuries or eligibility issues, the Orange are good enough to win the ACC, which means winning the ACC tournament, as the ACC does not have a regular-season champion. They are also good enough to have the best conference record, but Duke is very talented and might have the best player on any team in the NCAA in the form of Jabari Parker.
Unless something significant happens, the ACC has the feel of a two-horse race.
Syracuse is not perfect by any means, but the team has come together nicely after losing Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche. Any criticisms at this point would be nitpicking, but the rest of the ACC isn’t going to just roll over for the Orange.
Here are five ways Syracuse can maintain its success and take the ACC crown.