If you've spent the last four years in Syracuse, as I have, then you're aware of how disappointing the two major sports have been.
The football team has gone a combined 9-35 under the soon to be unemployed Greg Robinson, while the men's basketball team has played in only one NCAA tournament game since the end of the '04-'05 season.
While the football team continues it's unprecedented run of irrelevance, coach Jim Boeheim will look to put an end to an unprecedented two year tournament drought.
Boeheim enters his 33rd season as the Orange head coach, and will be showing off a young but experienced group in 2008-2009.
Returning starters include:
—Sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who averaged more than 39 MPG as a Freshman and is easily the most irreplaceable piece of the Orange puzzle.
—Junior shooting guard Eric Devendorf who missed almost all of last season following a knee injury and was awarded red shirt status last season.
—Junior forward Paul Harris, who had been rumored to be debating leaving after his Sophomore season, but returns to provide his size and strength which allow him to play bigger than his 6-4 frame would lead on.
—Junior Center Arinze Onuaku, who when properly motivated, possesses the skill set necessary to compensate for his size (6'9") when matching up against other centers, and can be a dominating inside presence when his teammates run the offense through him.
Other returning players include Junior guard Andy Rautins, who missed the entire '07-'08 season following knee surgery and Senior forward Kristoff Ongenaet who provides a huge spark off the bench with his high energy and defense.
Sophomore Guard Scoop Jardine will sit out the '08-'09 season and receive a medical red shirt as he wasn't able to recover from injuries sustained last season.
Incoming recruits include Mookie Jones and Kris Joseph, both of which should receive some minutes off the bench to spell Boeheim's starters, after he wasn't given the luxury with so many injuries last season.
The big off season storyline surrounded former forward Donte Greene, who declared himself eligible for the NBA following his Freshman season, much to the displeasure of Orange fans who had been pleading with Greene to stay with shirts that read "Don'te Leave".
Greene, and his 17 PPG likely won't be missed too badly, as the return of Devendorf should cancel out the loss, as he can be expected no less than 15 PPG.
Following two consecutive seasons in which the Orange failed to earn an NCAA Tournament invitation, the Orange will compete in arguably the most competitive conference in all of America.
The AP preseason top 25 includes big east powerhouse UCONN (2), Louisville (3), Pitt (5), Notre Dame (9), Marquette (16), Georgetown (22) and Villanova (23) with the Orange receiving 83 votes but falling short of a ranking.
It won't be easy for the Orange climbing their way back in meaningful March basketball games, as the regular season non-conference schedule also includes match-ups with Virginia, Florida (19), Kansas (24) (with a win against Florida; they face Washington if they lose) and Memphis (13).
10 Games Orange Fans Won't Want to Miss (home games in bold)
11/24 vs. Florida (Sprint Center, Kansas City)
First test of their non-conference schedule to play somebody with legitimate talent. A win would match them up with the winner of Kansas/Washington as part of the O' Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.
12/20 @ Memphis (FedEx Forum, TN)
Despite losing some of their starters from last season's championship game team to the NBA, Memphis is still among the nation's best teams, and will give the Orange a big test before conference play begins.
1/14 @ Georgetown (Verizon Center, D.C.)
The first of two match-ups with one of their conference rivals, the Orange lost down in the Nation's capital last season when a last second three rimmed out. Expect the first of two closely contested games between these long time Big East foes.
1/17 vs. Notre Dame (Carrier Dome, NY)
The Orange have struggled in recent years as their famous 2-3 has been no match for the superior outside shooting of the Irish, led by preseason Big East POY Luke Harangody. We'll see if Boeheim is able to adjust.
1/19 @ Pittsburgh (Peterson Center, PA)
Always well coached thanks to Jamie Dixon, the Panthers and Lavance Fields (yes, he's still around) always take the Orange down the wire in a match-up of two Big East teams who appear to be going in different directions, as Pitt finds themselves ranked among the top five with the Orange still searching for a ranking of their own.
1/25 vs. Louisville (Carrier Dome, NY)
After falling in Kentucky last season, the Orange seek revenge at home this year as they'll welcome one of the Nation's top five preseason ranked teams. Louisville is loaded with play makers among them senior Terrence Williams, and the Orange can make a real statement with an upset of Rick Pitino and Co.
2/4 vs. West Virginia (Carrier Dome, NY)
A very young West Virginia team will travel to the Dome in early February, and though they lost Joe Alexander to the NBA, head coach Bob Huggins has some highly rated recruits who will look to fill the void. A winnable game the Orange cannot take for granted.
2/7 @ Villanova (Wachovia Center, PA)
The team which claimed the final NCAA Tourney invite from the Big East, the Orange can put themselves in good position to earn their first invite in three seasons with a road win against a team they match up well against. Should be fun watching the point guard battle of Nova's Scottie Reynolds and The Orange play maker Jonny Flynn.
2/11 @ UCONN (Gampel Pavilion, CN)
Currently the preseason's second ranked squad in the country, UCONN rarely fails to come out against the Orange as these bitter Big East rivals meet for the only time this season. Syracuse will need to figure out a way to counter the Huskies' strong interior defense led by 7'3'' center Hasheem Thabeet.
2/14 vs. Georgetown (Carrier Dome, NY)
Regardless of who takes the first meeting, expect the same high level basketball to find it's way to central New York as the Hoyas will look to break the hearts of the Orange fans after Syracuse was victorious at home against them last year. Either way, G-Town will be looking for a season sweep or a split and will play this game with tournament intensity. Hopefully the Orange can match it.
3/7 @ Marquette (Bradley Center, WI)
The final game of the regular season will likely determine Big East Tournament seeding, as these two clubs could easily be fighting for an NCAA birth as well as an outside chance at a first round bye in that Big East Tourney.
This is an important season for Boeheim, who may be on the hot seat for the first time...ever?
After more than 30 winning season, a third straight season that doesn't end with an NCAA tournament invitation could mean the end of the longtime coach of Boeheim, who already has a successor named in assistant coach Mike Hopkins.
This team can score with anybody, and the 2-3 is still effective but only if Boeheim is willing to relax it in favor of more man-to-man, which his team is more than athletic enough to play.
If they can get the ball inside to Onuaku and get a more productive outside game with the returns of Devendorf and Rautins, the Orange can make some noise in a very, very tough conference.
I've watched this team up close for three seasons now, so I feel I know them well enough to have a sense of the sort of season we can expect based on the personnel and how Boeheim likes to coach.
If (and this is a big if after last season) the team can stay healthy, and their more experienced players continue to get better (notably Harris, Onuaku, Devendorf and Rautins), this team will place among the top six in its conference, and secure a spot in the big dance come March.
I see an 11-7 conference record, and a second round loss in the NCAA's March Madness.
Boeheim isn't fired, but steps downs at season's end, handing over the reigns to Hopkins, ending a legendary career in the Salt City.
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