Syracuse Basketball: Top opponents for ‘Cuse in new ACC/SEC Challenge

Syracuse basketball (Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)
Syracuse basketball (Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images) /
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When Syracuse basketball got crushed by top-20 Illinois on the road, 73-44, in late November, that marked the final ACC-Big Ten Challenge contest for the ‘Cuse.

Since moving from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2013-14 campaign, the Orange has suited up in 10 ACC-Big Ten Challenges, sporting a sub-par 4-6 overall record in this annual event.

Unfortunately, that blowout setback to Illinois will be the final memory for Syracuse basketball and its fan base in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Starting in the 2023-24 stanza, according to a recent announcement from the ACC, the Southeastern Conference and ESPN, the Orange and its league peers will participate in the ACC-SEC Challenge.

Ideal foes for Syracuse basketball in the ACC-SEC Challenge.

The SEC is a darn good basketball league these days. Its members consist of Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Big 12 Conference powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas are slated to join the SEC in the future as well.

In last week’s Associated Press top-25 poll, Alabama checked in at No. 4. The Crimson Tide recently knocked off then-No. 1 Houston. Tennessee is No. 6, Texas is No. 7, Arkansas is No. 10, Kentucky is No. 13, Mississippi State is No. 17, and Auburn is No. 19.

Here are some of my top choices for Syracuse basketball to battle in upcoming ACC-SEC Challenge affairs.

Tennessee
The ‘Cuse and the Volunteers are both Orange-clad schools. Long-time Syracuse basketball recruiting target Joseph Estrella, a 2023 four-star big man, is committed to Tennessee.

Plus, my son’s favorite squad is the Volunteers. Syracuse basketball is a supremely distant second in his mind. We’d have some fun smack-talking going on.

Kentucky
This is a no-brainer, given that the Wildcats have proven one of the best SEC groups for a long while now, and their head coach, John Calipari, is an ace recruiter.

Calipari and his assistants have won numerous recruiting wars over the years with the ‘Cuse.

Alabama
The Crimson Tide is an excellent unit these days, led by head coach Nate Oats, the former boss at Buffalo.

Alabama does quite well in the recruiting arena, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Crimson Tide ends up being the No. 1 team in the SEC during the 2022-23 term.

Arkansas
The Razorbacks are extremely well coached, recruit at an ultra-high level, and have journeyed to the Elite Eight of the Big Dance each of the past two seasons.

Auburn
The Tigers’ head coach, Bruce Pearl, is quite the character. In the 2021-22 stanza, Auburn crushed Syracuse basketball at a preseason tournament in the Bahamas.

The Tigers, which went to the Final Four in 2019, have a current roster that includes 2022 four-star guard Chance Westry, who was pursued by the Orange coaching staff for a long time and even took an official visit to the Hill in the summer of 2021.

LSU
A few months ago, 2023 four-star guard Mike Williams chose the Tigers over Syracuse basketball and several other finalists. I’d like to see the Orange face off with Williams and his LSU colleagues at some point.

Texas A&M
Two words. Buzz Williams. (Oh, and that pasting by Syracuse basketball of Marquette at the 2013 Elite Eight in Washington, D.C., was tremendously gratifying. I was there in person.)

Texas or Oklahoma
Both the Longhorns and the Sooners almost certainly won’t be in the SEC for the 2023-24 term, but it would be entertaining to see them compete versus the ‘Cuse down the line.

Let’s not forget that when the Orange won the national championship in 2002-03, the ‘Cuse defeated Oklahoma in the regional finals and then Texas in the Final Four before squeaking by Kansas in the title contest.

Vanderbilt
Long-time NBA player Jerry Stackhouse is the head coach at Vanderbilt, and I think he’s taking this group in a positive direction. Selfishly, I’m in Nashville, Tenn., every other week visiting my son, so I’d love to root for Syracuse basketball when it heads to Vanderbilt for future encounters.

Next. Syracuse basketball prioritizing 4-star guard, a fast-rising top-25 prospect. dark