The No. 2 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is finding its defensive groove and now sits atop the ACC in its first year in the conference.
After Saturday’s 59-54 win over then-No. 22 Pittsburgh (16-2, 4-1), the Orange look like the clear choice to take the conference, but the road is not an easy one.
Road being the operative word.
Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 ACC) has 13 games remaining on the schedule, with seven of those contests being on the road. Not counting the three games played in the Maui Invitational, the Orange have only left the Carrier Dome for three games, which means the schedule is about to get tougher.
Over the next eight games, the Orange will get five games at home and three on the road, but the real test comes at the end of the schedule, where they will play four of their last five games on the road.
Worth noting is that of Syracuse’s five games played in conference, four games were against former Big East foes, with North Carolina being the only ACC blue blood to face the Orange.
Also exacerbating the situation was the announcement that the Orange will be without DaJuan Coleman for the remainder of the season due to his need for surgery to repair his injured leg, as per the Syracuse Post-Standard.
Which teams will give the Orange the most trouble? Where will they find themselves in danger of losing their undefeated status?
Let’s take a look at what lies ahead for the Orange and which teams will give them the best run for their money.
Roughly 24 hours before the Super Bowl kicks off in East Rutherford, a titanic clash of college basketball’s two winningest coaches of all time will play out a few hours to the north.
Mike Krzyzewski, No. 1 on the all-time wins list, will bring his No. 18 Duke Blue Devils (14-4, 3-2) to the Carrier Dome to face the No. 2 man on the list, Jim Boeheim, in front of 30,000-plus rabid fans.
In a perceived off year for Duke, players such as Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood present an opportunity for the Orange to square off against a handful of elite players. This will also be the first ever meeting between the two schools as conference foes.
It's difficult to overstate the magnitude of this game, which is sure to be one for the ages.
When the Orange host Notre Dame on Feb. 3, it will the their third game in six days and will be just two days after what is sure to be an emotional game against Duke.
Notre Dame has a history of playing the Orange tough. Consider back on Jan. 21, 2012—Syracuse was the No. 1 team in the nation at 20-0 and left Notre Dame with its first loss of the season.
The Irish have struggled a bit this season. They lost Jerami Grant's brother Jerian due to academic problems, which will be just desserts seeing as how, in Notre Dame's win, Fab Melo was absent from Syracuse under similar circumstances.
When Grant was dismissed from the team, he was the Irish's leading scorer at 19 points per game and their leading assist man with 6.2 per game.
That 67-58 loss was also the Orange’s last trip to South Bend.
The circumstances could be eerily similar with the Orange being a possible 21-0 (and maybe the No. 1 team if Arizona loses) for this contest.
Mike Brey, in similar fashion to Jamie Dixon, knows how to attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone, which makes for an uncomfortable game for the Orange.
No. 20 Pittsburgh will host the Orange in a rematch of the two former conference mates.
Pitt lost a winnable game against Syracuse on Jan. 18 due to the Orange defense preventing the Panthers from making a field goal over the final six minutes of the game.
Jamie Dixon’s squad has no love for the Orange—nor does it fear them.
The Orange will need to do a better job of shutting down passing lanes and rebounding the ball if they want to escape Pittsburgh with a win.
This game is circled as the watershed game for Syracuse.
While there are not many criticisms to the Orange's game, the biggest one is that they haven't had a true road test.
With apologies to Pittsburgh, this will be that test.
With North Carolina having its worst year in recent memory, the Cameron Crazies might look to this game as their biggest rivalry game (just for this year).
At 14-5, the Cavaliers have flown under the radar, but at 5-1 in the ACC, they are just a half-game behind the Orange in-conference.
Virginia lost a tough game to Duke on Jan. 13 but bounced back to take out Florida State and North Carolina.
Virginia will likely be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, and with no wins against a ranked team in three tries, the Cavaliers have only Pitt and Syracuse left to convince the selection committee that they are worthy of an NCAA bid.
Syracuse should expect Virginia’s best game.