Schedule analysis and season prediction — 2019 Syracuse Basketball preview

Dolezaj_Duke_3
Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj drives against Duke. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Here is Syracuse’s regular season schedule:

  • Nov. 6 – Virginia (Carrier Dome)
  • Nov. 13 – Colgate (Carrier Dome)
  • Nov. 16 — Seattle (Carrier Dome)
  • Nov. 20 – Cornell (Carrier Dome)
  • Nov. 23 — Bucknell (Carrier Dome)
  • Nov. 27 – NIT Season Tipoff vs. Ole Miss/Oklahoma State/Penn State (Barclays Center)
  • Nov. 29 – NIT Season Tipoff (Barclays Center)
  • Dec. 3 – Iowa (ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Carrier Dome)
  • Dec. 8 — Georgia Tech (McCamish Pavillion)
  • Dec. 14 – Georgetown (Capital One Arena)
  • Dec. 18 – Oakland (Carrier Dome)
  • Dec. 21 — North Florida (Carrier Dome)
  • Dec. 28 — Niagara (Carrier Dome)
  • Jan. 4 — Notre Dame (Carrier Dome)
  • Jan. 7 — Virginia Tech (Carrier Dome)
  • Jan. 11 — Virginia (John Paul Jones Arena)
  • Jan. 15 — Boston College (Carrier Dome)
  • Jan. 18 — Virginia Tech (Cassell Coliseum)
  • Jan. 22 — Notre Dame (Purcell Pavilion)
  • Jan. 25 — Pittsburgh (Carrier Dome)
  • Jan. 28 — Clemson (Littlejohn Coliseum)
  • Feb. 1 — Duke (Carrier Dome)
  • Feb. 8 — Wake Forest (Carrier Dome)
  • Feb. 11 — NC State (Carrier Dome)
  • Feb. 15 — Florida State (Tucker Center)
  • Feb. 19 — Louisville (KFC Yum! Center)
  • Feb. 22 — Georgia Tech (Carrier Dome)
  • Feb. 26 — Pittsburgh (Petersen Events Center)
  • Feb. 29 — UNC (Carrier Dome)
  • Mar. 3 — Boston College (Conte Forum)
  • Mar. 7 — Miami (Watsco Center)

The ACC moves to a 20-game conference schedule this season and the Orange will feel the effects of that change right out of the gate when they open the season hosting defending national champion Virginia. The Cavaliers are one of four teams in the conference who enter the season ranked in the national polls and all are among the top 11 squads in the country. Fortunately, Syracuse will only face #11 Virginia in a home-and-home set while the other three teams (#4 Duke, #5 Louisville, and #9 North Carolina) appear just once on the slate. Among that trio, SU only travels to Louisville.

» Related: A full roster analysis of the 2019-20 Syracuse basketball team

Beyond the ACC elites, only Florida State, Notre Dame, and North Carolina State joined the Orange in garnering votes in the preseason poll. The Fighting Irish appear twice in January, while Florida State (road) and the Wolfpack (home) face SU a single time. Like last season, the eighth-place Orange get to see the teams expected to be in the bottom of the conference standings an inordinate amount of times. Home-and-home sets with Pittsburgh (10th in preseason poll), Georgia Tech (12th), Boston College (13th), and Virginia Tech (14th) appear on the schedule, meaning 11 of the 20 conference matchups are against teams who finished in the bottom half of the preseason ACC poll.

The back half of February stands out as the most difficult stretch of the season, as road contests with Florida State and Louisville and a home matchup with North Carolina make for a rough 15-day stretch.

The non-conference portion of the schedule is pretty light. Longtime rival Georgetown and upstate neighbor Colgate are the only non-conference opponents to receive votes in the preseason polls. That said, both major conference foes the Orange will face in the NIT Season Tip-Off (Oklahoma State and either Ole Miss or Penn State), Iowa, and Georgetown should be on a similar level as SU. In other words, the stretch from Thanksgiving to mid-December should be a good early indicator of where Syracuse stands nationally.

While the schedule is not as menacing as it could be, SU will have a couple exacerbating factors that will make sledding more difficult. The Orange are inexperienced in the backcourt and whoever starts at point guard, be it Jalen Carey, Brycen Goodine, or even Joe Girard III, will be new to the job. While it is obviously a small sample size, none of that trio finished the two exhibition games with more assists than turnovers. While Buddy Boeheim played a significant number of minutes as a freshman and will start at shooting guard, he is also not an accomplished ballhandler and cannot be expected to run the team for extended minutes. Head coach Jim Boeheim will likely show a quick hook with the guards early in the season, looking for whomever has the hot hand from game to game, or even half to half, in a quest for solid play.

The other part of having an inexperienced backcourt is the 2-3 zone will likely go through defensive struggles. Boeheim is 6’6”, but the other guards are all 6’3” or shorter. The last time the Orange relied on an inexperienced backcourt with some height limitations was three years ago when Tyus Battle was a freshman, Frank Howard a sophomore, and John Gillon a graduate transfer. That team’s defensive results were the worst in a decade and Syracuse found themselves hosting a pair of NIT games in March.

SU will also be heavily reliant on the three-point shot. In those two exhibition games, half of the Orange’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. While the Orange shot 43.1 percent from long range in those two contests, there is no guarantee they will do so against the tougher defenses they will see during the season. While game-to-game volatility will help when the Orange shooters are on, there will undoubtedly be games where they are off the mark, as well.

Between the point guard questions, the defense, and the perimeter shooting, the Orange have a lot of unknowns. The team will need Elijah Hughes to adjust well to a leading role and for Quincy Guerrier to provide nearly double-double averages to be among the better teams in the conference. They’ll need the defense, which was good in one half of each exhibition game, to play better on a consistent basis.

It’s a lot to ask for from a mostly young group and they will not be able to make it work all the time. With the expected volatility that will come from three-point shooting, SU will probably pull a couple upsets when the long-range shots are falling, but when those shots are not finding their home, the Orange will struggle and lose to a few teams they should beat on paper. Add in the uncertainties of defense and ball security from the point guards and it will be an uphill climb.

This campaign will be a struggle, but that will pay off in the 2020-2021 season, when Syracuse will likely return a long list of contributors as a deep, experienced team. Meanwhile, this season will be a slog. Put the Orange down for an 8-3 non-conference mark and 8-12 in the ACC for a 16-15 record and an NIT bid.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 576 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.