The leitmotif of today’s media coverage previewing the SU-Richmond game this evening is that this is a serious challenge for Syracuse and that we’d better be on our game or we’re looking at an L. I’ll second that.
Here’s why we should worry: The Spiders are not a typical early season cupcake from a bullshit conference no one’s ever heard of. Richmond plays in the Atlantic 10, one of the two legitimate mid-major power conferences (along with the Missouri Valley). The A-10 is home to perennial mid-major studs and NCAA dancers like Xavier, Temple, Rhode Island, UMass, Dayton, and St. Joe’s. Their league is genuinely stacked with basketball talent, and I’m sure there are years when the A-10 is better at the top than certain BCS conferences who shall remain nameless (hint: starts with a “Big”, ends with a “10″). SU fans will recall Syracuse losing to Rhode Island and twice to UMass last season.
The Spiders went 9-7 in conference games last year, which is the number to pay attention to, rather than their overall mediocre record of 16-15. They beat a couple of those teams I mentioned earlier, and stayed competitive with all of them. They also knocked off the ACC’s Virginia Tech in an non-conference game (VA Tech was 4th in the ACC last year). According to Syracuse.com’s fine scouting work, the Spiders lost their leading scorer from last season to injury, which is good for us, but they’re returning the A-10 rookie of the year award-winner, plus a lineup loaded with experienced juniors and sophomores. Plus, they play that damn nasty Princeton-style BS.
Their game plan is even more of a concern than usual, given that the pattern of defensive lapses we’ve seen over the past couple of games have usually involved a lack of focus by our interior defenders on backdoor passes, leading to wide open layups. Our guards are going to have to work doubly hard to deny passing lanes and disrupt the flow of their sets on the perimeter. I’m also a little concerned by their reputation for sharpshooting from the outside — that’s the stuff that upsets are made of. Especially given that their big men, and even their center, can hit it from deep. I’m not sure if AO, Rick, or Kristof are ready to spend all day chasing three point shooters.
On the other hand, if we come through smelling like roses, this will be the first legit sign that SU might have something special this year.