Before getting to it, I'd like to recognize the crowd at the Dome for Tuesday's exhibition game against LeMoyne. 11,000 fans showed up. For an exhibition game. An EXHIBITION GAME. ELEVEN THOUSAND. Awesome.
Friday, the regular season tips off against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers. Last year, UNI went 30-5 and ran away with the Missouri Valley Conference. In the NCAA tournament, the Panthers defeated top-ranked Kansas in a memorable upset on the wings of Ali Farokhmanesh. As Farokhmanesh launched that uncontested-but-uneccessary three up one with 30 seconds to play and 29 on the shot clock, I remember thinking "wow, that might be the stupidest shot I've ever seen." When it went in, I still thought it was stupid. The 2010-11 team has lost a few key players: seven-footer Jordan Eglseder, MVC POY Adam Koch and Farokhmanesh.
The new frontcourt will be anchored by Jake Koch (6-9, 255), Adam's younger brother. Koch was a strong performer at the end of last season and is a mild threat from outside, making 16 of 40 threes (40%) in 09-10. Freshman Chip Rank (6-6, 215) and two time MVC 6th Man Lucas O'Rear (6-6, 260) will join Koch up front. Notably, O'Rear dominates the competition in an often overlooked stat category: mutton chops.
The backcourt will be the Panthers' strength. Senior Kwadzo Ahelegbe steps into a leadership role, and much of their season will depend on if he embraces the new responsibility. He's not alone - junior Johnny Moran returns as well. Coach Ben Jacobsen is relying on Ahelegbe and Moran to fill in the scoring gaps left by their departed stars.
UNI will take a step back this season, but they are a well coached team that will out-hustle any squad in the country. Tune in to ESPN3 on Friday, November 12th at 7pm. This is the toughest opening game matchup that Syracuse has faced since Memphis in that memorable 2002-2003 season.
BASKETBALL SEASON HAS ARRIVED! REJOICE!