Orange Watch: Early ACC schedule shakes out favorably for Syracuse basketball

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Syracuse can win some games early in conference play

Item: Following Wednesday night’s final non-league game against Cornell (6:00 p.m. ET / ESPNU), it’s all ACC play the rest of the way for the 8-4 Orange, and with five of the 15 league schools ranked in the Top 25 this week, including No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Virginia, in what will already be a step up in intensity each time out, at least SU’s first seven games are not among any of the five ranked teams.

Since it’s near the end of his career, this season for Jim Boeheim, by coincidence tied into the timing of the release of his personal career thoughts in the autobiography “Bleeding Orange” (which was no doubt a favorite gift to give/receive among Orange Nation last week), will stand out as much for the early season learning curve of new players manning new starting positions and the unusual occurrence of four early season defeats, but also for the 12 sessions so far in which the SU boss has sat on the postgame podium to reveal his honest assessment for public consumption on the state of his players individually, the team as a whole, with a consistent two month theme:

“Overall, this is a real good learning experience for this team, and we’ve got a week (until the next game) to kind of learn some things (from this game).” – Nov. 2 following the win over Carleton in the exhibition opener.

“We struggled offensively the last two games and again we have a freshman point guard, he’s learning the position and it’s going to take time.” – Nov. 20 after the first of the four losses to California at Madison Square Garden.

» Related: Syracuse’s defense, not offense, its greatest concern at the moment

“Two freshmen…still learning, they’re painful lessons you have to learn sometimes.” – Dec. 2 after coming back from 11 down at Michigan only to see Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph turn the ball over at critical points in the final 15 seconds.

“We’re learning, I hope, I don’t see it, but I hope we will learn. There’s not that much time left (until ACC play), nothing’s going to happen magically.” – Dec. 14 after narrowly beating Louisiana Tech in the final three seconds.

Ok, you get the picture here, if there was ever a season in the last decade or so in which Boeheim has been in the full professorial mode overseeing practices, this is it.

As conference play begins this weekend at Virginia Tech, picked to finish last in the preseason media poll, we’re about to find out if we’re going to see a team that more resembled the oh-so-close effort at Villanova, or the one that struggled down the stretch in its other three losses.

“I believe we can make a run right now,” Michael Gbinije said after a career high 24 point performance against Long Beach State Sunday. “We’ve got the ACC coming up, so if we can carry this momentum in (to league play) it will be good.”

Following the Hokies on Saturday, the Orange gets in order Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Boston College and Miami, all except FSU (No.8) picked to finish between 10-15 in the preseason poll, the best schedule draw you could ask for, especially for a team still “learning” its way.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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