Nothing that the Syracuse Orangemen have done so far this season will really prepare them for what is to come as they enter into the heart of the Big East season in the next few days.
But that is because realistically there is nothing that can prepare you for a Big East season. With 8 teams in the Top 25, there is nothing quite like the Big East and the rigors that it presents.
Still, Syracuse which has a definite yearning to improve on the disappointment of the last two seasons is as close to ready as it can possibly be. Minus one little blip on the radar, a home buzzer-beating loss to Cleveland State, the Orange has passed every test along the way. Included in that mix are three marquee wins away from the Carrier Dome. Florida, Kansas and Memphis all fell victim to the Orange during the preseason part of the schedule.
The Orange was able to accomplish that with good point guard play from Jonny Flynn, who may well be unmatched by anyone in the country. Some solid shooting away from the basket by Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins. In addition, the solid inside play of Arinze Onuaku and recently named starter Rick Jackson has been tough for opponents to match. Plus, the all-around play of Paul Harris has been a key factor.
If you believe the rankings there are four Big East teams that are better than the 11th ranked Orange in the Big East. Pitt, Connecticut, Georgetown and Notre Dame all had slots ahead of Syracuse before play began last week. Personally, I'm not sure the Irish are deserving. They seem overrated to me.
Still, the Orange has five games against that group before the regular season ends. It will be interesting to see how they fare against that level of competition.
The Syracuse zone has always provided obstacles for Georgetown, so that might continue to be a matchup that favors the Orange. Syracuse should have won at the Verizon Center a year ago, and romped over the Hoyas at the Carrier Dome.
Meanwhile, Pitt was another game Syracuse should have closed out last year, but was unable to. The Panthers have been scary good to start the season this year. The two schools meet January 19th and you have to figure that the Panthers will be a favorite at that point. Syracuse might have an opportunity to prove that it has matured a bit in this contest and finish things off.
Styles do make matchups and in recent years, the style of play that UCONN presents has given the Orange fits. We'll see if the two big man attack of Onuaku and Jackson will be enough to trouble Thabeet inside for the Huskies. But that game is on the road and will probably see the Orange enter as an underdog.
The Irish does visit the Dome on January 17th. I think this game will possibly be a make or break game for each team at that point. It very well could be that the winner continues on as a contender in the Big East, while the loser falls into that tough second level. I'd give the Orange the advantage now, but the game is still two weeks away.
Syracuse seems to have gotten better this year. But they have still had moments where they haven't been fully focused. First halves like they played against Virginia, Richmond and Cornell lead to losses in the Big East against all levels of competition.
So even though it is obvious that this team has played the type of basketball capable of winning 25-plus games in the regular season during early season play. It is also possible that if they don't keep focus, that they will be back to where they were the last two seasons. A spot they don't want to find themselves on and that is on the bubble come Selection Sunday.