Jim Boeheim rips ACC: Playing conference games early is 'stupid', a 'money grab'

Cassandra Negley
SYRACUSE, NY - NOVEMBER 06:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts to a play against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first half at the Carrier Dome on November 6, 2019 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Jim Boeheim isn't happy with the ACC after facing No. 11 Virginia to start the year. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team didn’t only lose its home opener Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome. It also dropped its ACC opener against mighty Virginia, ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll.

And head coach Jim Boeheim isn’t happy about it. He’s not happy at having to play that game in early November, that is.

Boeheim calls early conference games ‘stupid’

It was not a good night at the Dome for Orange faithful excited to turn away from the football team’s quick plummet. Syracuse crashed out and lost, 48-34, to the reigning national champions.

Boeheim was cranky about it in his postgame comments and couched the following by saying it would have sounded better and mattered more if Syracuse won.

“You never want to play the league games early. That’s stupid. It’s just a money grab. They’ve got scheduled games for TV, for the TV contracts, so you’ve got to play games early and then somebody had the brilliant idea of opening up the first game with a league game.

“I just don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it’s smart. You want to build up to league. The league’s the most important thing, so why would you play the first game of the year in the league? Makes no sense to me but that’s what happens when you go up to 20 games and someone wants you to play early.”

It’s the fifth season-opening loss in Boeheim’s 44 years.

Why are conference games in November?

It was a jarring start to the season Tuesday night with conference opponents going head-to-head. There’s usually a grace period, a cushy (enough) non-conference schedule to add wins, build team chemistry and assess weaknesses.

That all changed in the ACC this season. The conference expanded its schedule to 20 games and wanted a big opening night on the ACC Network. Every team except for No. 4 Duke (a note that also riles up the Orange fan base, though the Blue Devils did face No. 3 Kansas) began its season with an ACC opponent.

Syracuse got stuck playing reigning champion Virginia. But it was also a reality check for Miami, which lost 87-74 to No. 5 Louisville, and Notre Dame. The Irish lost, 76-65, to No. 9 North Carolina and watched freshman Cole Anthony make a record-setting debut.

Orange desperately needed a grace period

Syracuse has zero seniors on its squad, is putting four new starters on the floor and has five freshmen to get up to speed. Elijah Hughes is the only returning starter, and was the only player in double-digits with 14 points. Buddy Boeheim had seven and no other player had more than four.

They shot a paltry 23.6 percent (13 of 55) as a team and were beat on the boards, 47-28. Syracuse’s 34 points were the fewest in Boehiem’s tenure and the lowest output in 65 years. The score was 2-2 at the first media timeout.

Virginia is 90-13 in the ACC since the 2013-14 season and has held opponents to less than 50 points in 36 of those games. It’s the 24th time Bennett’s Cavaliers have kept teams to fewer than 40 points. Not the opponent Boeheim wants on Day 1, but it was always going to be one of the toughest.

What playing conference foes early offers

Maybe it is stupid. Maybe it is a money grab. That’s up for debate. But here’s another way of looking at it.

The Orange finished 10-8 in the ACC last year and didn’t play their first conference opponent until a Jan. 5 meeting with Notre Dame. They had 13 games under their belt at that point, then played the rest of the season against conference foes. Their postseason ended two games into the ACC tournament and in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

This year the team played four games on an Italy tour, plus the two regular exhibition games, before the season opener. The Orange take a break from ACC competition until Dec. 7 vs. Georgia Tech and continue the standard conference schedule to start January.

If you want to truly see what the team is looking like, what needs to be improved, and what are going to be weaknesses and strengths, playing a great team early helps. Virginia’s defense stifled Syracuse, and the Orange will have to figure that out. They need to find ways to hit shots and sift out who will lead. There are three more ACC teams ranked higher right now than Virginia, and they all await. The bright side: Duke and North Carolina are coming north and ’Cuse will have the Dome home crowd.

It’s most important how you play at the end of the season — not adding another win to your season-opener record.

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