Item: Wasn’t Syracuse’s 68-66 escape at Virginia Tech last Saturday sort of symbolic of the season so far? One half of great basketball showing flashes of how when the inside/outside game is clicking offensively, the defense is in full force, and going strong to the glass leaves a lot of smiles around Orange Nation, only to be followed by the opposition’s halftime adjustments resulting in almost completely blowing a 22 point lead and the game itself. That would not have been a great way to start the New Year, would it?
As ACC play continues Wednesday night in Atlanta against 9-4, 0-1 Georgia Tech (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPNU), we take different capsule looks at the last seven league opponents in schedule order. We looked at the first seven yesterday in Part I:
Virginia Tech – We guess the ACC office figured if it gives Syracuse a rotating home and home series with Duke for a second straight year, the least it can do is also give SU a home and home set with Virginia Tech as well to balance the Orange’s league slate. Well, as we all saw after SU barely got out of Blacksburg last weekend without the embarrassment of blowing a large lead; the Hokies are going in the right direction under Buzz Williams, looking to get the program back to the NCAA Tournament sooner than later for the first time since 2007, and for just the ninth time ever.
Pittsburgh – One team the Orange will always play twice a season for the foreseeable future is Pitt (along with B.C.), and after winning six straight in December against teams ranked anywhere from No. 110-254 in the terrific KenPom.com rating system, the Panthers played their worse game of the season in their ACC opener at N.C. State last weekend, so it’s hard to figure which direction they’re headed, currently No. 71 themselves on the same KenPom board (SU is 41st before the Ga. Tech game).
Duke – To think that the two games against Duke this season could match up against the two instant classics of last year’s inaugural ACC campaign, what with an on-campus record Dome crowd of 35,446 watching an overtime thriller, and Jim Boeheim going crazy and getting ejected for the first time (non exhibition) in the frantic finish in front of the Cameron Crazies, is simply unrealistic. With so many TV eyeballs glued to both contests, the Dome event was the third most watched regular season game in ESPN history (4,745,000 viewers) and “The Jacket” game finished as the third most watched for the season (4,160,000), that both the ACC and ESPN had to go back for a double-dip this year hoping to strike a little more ratings gold.
Louisville – Every time we look at that those two team photos from the 1976-77 and 77-78 Orange squads on the SU website (scroll down a little) we still marvel that the coaching staff produced two Naismith Hall of Famers, and that always makes any Boeheim-Rick Pitino matchup fun to watch in what’s turned out to be an incredible 22-game rivalry between the two dating back to 1986. For this year to continue the trend, Syracuse will need to be at the top of its game for the midweek Dome meeting next month against the currently fifth ranked Cardinals.
Notre Dame – Enough talk about Syracuse’s yearly pre-conference schedule. The rising No. 12/13 Irish who held on to win at North Carolina Monday night in their first true road contest of the season, barely left the state of Indiana playing all but two of their first 15 games either at home or in Indianapolis, although in fairness those two other games were essentially road contests on a neutral court versus nearby schools UMass and Providence (the lone loss 75-74) at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Conn.
Virginia – Joining Duke and Kentucky as the only unbeaten trio left atop the rankings the week of Jan. 5, tells most of the story of the incredible program-building job by Tony Bennett in his sixth season of guiding the defending ACC champions. Discounting the newest ACC arrivals the last two years, Bennett is fourth in coaching seniority behind only Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and FSU’s Hamilton. Preaching defense and high character from his players, Bennett has been able to mold great athletes into the defense-first, team mentality, while creating a fantastic game day atmosphere at John Paul Jones Arena.
North Carolina State – Since beating Wake Forest in the season’s first league game back on Dec. 6, Mark Gottfried’s up and down Wolfpack have lost to Wofford, West Virginia and Cincinnati, and beaten Tennessee and Pittsburgh. Which team shows up Wednesday at Virginia coming off the decisive Pitt victory last weekend will be an interesting indicator where Gottfried has the program headed in his fourth season.