Previewing Mike Hopkins’ first nine games as head coach of Syracuse

Hopkins keeps players focused against Villanova
Syracuse coach Mike Hopkins faces a tough nine-game stretch in the ACC
Hopkins keeps players focused against Villanova
Syracuse coach Mike Hopkins faces a tough nine-game stretch in the ACC

As Jim Boeheim awaits the results of his appeal of his upcoming 9-ACC game suspension on Monday, Mike Hopkins will be prepping for possibly coaching those games. Assuming the suspension is upheld, Hopkins will get his first chance to lead the team before gaining full control once Boeheim retires.

Hopkins will be able to prove his skills as a head coach during that stretch which starts on Dec. 30 and ending Jan. 28. This will not be an easy test for Hopkins as Syracuse, even with returning starters, has an unproven roster. In essence, this will be Hopkins’ warm-up in making the program his own.

Here’s a look at the nine games that Hopkins will coach:

  • Dec. 30 at Pittsburgh: Jamie Dixon has fortified his front court depth by adding three transfers who stand 6’9″ or taller. That will allow power forward Michael Young to shift back to his regular position. The Panthers are one of the most experienced teams in the ACC, and have always played well at home. Prediction: LOSS.
  • Jan. 2 at Miami: The Hurricanes came out with a close win, 66-62, against the Orange last year in Syracuse. Miami coming off a loss in the NIT final, but return Tonye Jekiri and guard Ja’Quan Newton who both played well against the Orange. Still, I see Syracuse winning in a close game. Prediction: WIN.
  • Jan. 5 vs. Clemson: The Tigers dominated the Orange in a 66-53 victory last season, but are coming off a losing record and lost their top two shooters in the offseason. Jaron Blossomgame was the team’s only scorer over 10.0 ppg last season (13.1) and he returns this season, but don’t expect too much more out of the Tigers. Prediction: WIN.
  • Jan. 9 vs. UNC: North Carolina cruised to a 93-83 Tar Heel victory against Syracuse last year. The Tar Heels finished with a Sweet 16 appearance, and return several of their key players (Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks) from a squad that lost to a Wisconsin team that went to the Final Four. Their only key loss is forward J.P. Tokoto (8.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Prediction: LOSS.
  • Jan. 13 vs. BC: The Orange won both matchups with BC, winning by 8 and 14 respectively. Syracuse should outmatch the Eagles, especially with Olivier Hanlan now in the NBA. Prediction: WIN.
  • Jan. 16 at Wake Forest: Danny Manning’s team returns several key players, including center Devin Thomas and mercurial guard Cody Miller-McIntyre. And of course there is Konstantinos Mitoglu, who Syracuse fans know very well. SU needed overtime at the Carrier Dome to win 86-83 last season, thanks to Rakeem Christmas, and should squeeze out a tight game here. Prediction: WIN.

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  • Jan. 18 at Duke: The biggest draw of the nine games will be Duke, who seems to have overtaken Georgetown as Syracuse’s biggest foe. Duke has lost four of its fives starters from last year’s championship run, including freshman standout Jahil Okafor, but has reloaded with a talented class, including freshmen Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton. Syracuse still hasn’t won at Duke in ACC play. Prediction: LOSS.
  • Jan. 23 at Virginia: Tony Bennett’s team lost All-ACC performer Justin Anderson and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Darion Atkins, but return what should be a First-Team All-American in Malcolm Brogdon. The Cavaliers beat the Orange 59-47 in Syracuse last year, and seem to have had SU’s number the last two years. Prediction: LOSS.
  • Jan. 28 vs. Notre Dame: Even though the Irish had a top-25 team during their sole meeting in South Bend, the Orange outlasted the Fighting Irish 65-60. Gone are Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from the squad that nearly toppled Kentucky, but Demetrius Jackson will be one of the top returning guards in the country. Prediction: WIN.

Hopkins does not need to be the next Jim Boeheim. Mike Hopkins needs to be Mike Hopkins.

Hopkins can and will show his variant of what made Boeheim successful, probably some form of the 2-3 zone and smart offense. This means establishing dominant coaching ability in the Wake Forest and BC games and winning against quality opponents like Notre Dame and Duke.

Hopkins is poised for a true learning experience this season. Orange fans this season will most likely get a small taste of the program’s future.

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