Syracuse men’s basketball is 13-0 for the third consecutive year. As the top-ranked team in the nation, the Orange will begin its conference schedule on Wednesday, December 28 with a visit from the Seton Hall Pirates.
Seton Hall (10-1) is much improved this season—with quality wins against VCU and Auburn—and is led by its senior star, Herb Pope.
While Seton Hall is most likely not in the talent category of Syracuse, it presents one of the nightly problems the Orange will experience, which is a deep, talented conference gunning for them every game.
Being the top team in the polls is a nice accomplishment, but it is only important in the course of seeding. Beyond that, it lands them a huge bullseye. A win over Syracuse will now become a benchmark for any school that plays them, and it would be the ultimate tip of the scale when it comes to slotting bubble teams.
Syracuse can go a few ways with this ranking.
One way is to ignore the ranking, play hard every night and work to get better. This team is great, but it hasn’t played another top-tier team this year. Florida was a good win, but in terms of tournament play, Syracuse was a matchup nightmare for the Gators, and the win is not a good measuring stick for the deep team from upstate New York.
No team wants to lose. A second direction this team could take is to run into a team that wants to give them a run for their money.
A good loss (if there is such a thing) can go a long way in addressing team deficiencies and take away some of the cocky edge that can develop.
How many losses will the Orange suffer this season?
A third direction—and the least likely: The team lets the ranking go to its head and underestimates the talent of its Big East compatriots. Jim Boeheim has a history of understanding his teams’ pros and cons and won’t accept sloppy play or showboating.
His bench is deep enough to sit anyone he chooses—a fact his players have expeditiously learned already.
Syracuse has the chops to dominate the Big East this season. An undefeated season is probably out of the question, but not inconceivable, either. This team prides itself on defense, as indicated by its nation-leading steal total.
Show me a team that plays great defense and I’ll show you a team that works hard.
When a team as deep as Syracuse contains one of the longest lineups in the NCAA, a lethal combination is formed.
While Syracuse can score at a high rate, the transition offense is fueled by turnovers. Without the defense, they are just another tough Big East team. A deep run in the postseason should be the fruit reaped from their deep-rooted defensive tree.
Teams in the Big East have seen the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Some, like Louisville, have even excelled against it. The difference this year, not unlike the 2003 championship team, is the length.
Moving the ball in and out of the zone is a skill in and of itself. Trying to beat a well-executed 2-3 zone that has length is next to impossible.
Regardless of how the season plays out, Syracuse will garner a high seed and will be a formidable tournament opponent. How the team fine tunes and works out the kinks will set the course for tournament supremacy.
That starts with blowing Seton Hall out of the building.