“It will definitely help to prepare us and get our newcomers more experience to be able to play in tough environments,” Amaya Finklea-Guity said. “It’s a great opportunity that we had to play against all these ranked teams.”The Orange have three games left before it begins play in the ACC, which features four other teams currently ranked in the Top 25. That includes two neutral site games, against a Duquesne team that went 25-8 last season and one-loss Central Florida.Its final nonconference games serve as two more tests for SU away from the Carrier Dome, just how Hillsman wants it.“You schedule top 25 teams and teams that are really good to get you RPI points and get those wins,” Hillsman said. “Our goal is to host an NCAA tournament game.” Comments Published on December 11, 2018 at 9:44 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 Facebook Twitter Google+ Six years ago, Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman sat with the members of his women’s basketball team as they awaited their postseason fate. A number of people in SU athletics had told him that they thought Syracuse was “definitely in” the NCAA tournament. But as the selection show unfolded, the Orange never saw their name.Syracuse missed the tournament for a fourth-straight year. The hosts of the program discussed SU’s weak nonconference slate as one of the primary reasons it missed out.As Hillsman watched them discuss his team, the only thing he remembered thinking was his team’s weak out-of-conference schedule.“I’m never going to do that again,” he thought.In the five years since, the Orange have never missed the NCAA tournament, in part due to their tougher opponents before conference play. Hillsman’s new ideology has further developed this season for No. 15 Syracuse (8-2), which played four top-20 programs in its first eight games of the season. With Syracuse’s most ranked nonconference opponents in program history, its head coach wants to ensure that SU gets to host the first two games of the NCAA tournament.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“They were right,” Hillsman said about the NCAA tournament selection committee’s decision to omit Syracuse in 2012. “The RPIs, strength of schedule, it wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. They can’t blame it on our schedule anymore. That’s not gonna be the reason.”Talia Trackim | Digital Design EditorThe Orange peaked at No. 7 in RPI on Dec. 5 and have relied on their strong quality of opponents this year to stay near the top. Its second game of the season against No. 3 Oregon served as Syracuse’s highest nonconference regular-season opponent since 2014, when it took on No. 1 South CarolinaThe Orange played the Ducks close for the majority of the game, even taking a six-point lead with just over two minutes left in the game. But nine unanswered points gave Oregon an advantage and the eventual victory.“When you play that high competition, you become accustomed to it,” junior guard Gabrielle Cooper said. “Then you just learn to play at that level consistently, so I think it’s the best thing for us.”After its loss to Oregon, Syracuse traveled to White Plains to take on then-No. 20 Texas A&M, which it defeated by 10. Since the win over the Aggies, the Orange have gone 6-1, including an overtime victory in Cancun over then-No. 16 DePaul.But its losses haven’t hurt Syracuse too badly in the rankings. Following a four-point defeat to then-No. 20 Minnesota, the Orange dropped just three spots to No. 15. Hillsman understands that the harder slate of games may mean some losses and bumps in the road but knew his team was prepared for it.“I knew we were deep; I knew we were talented; I knew we’d be young,” Hillsman said. “I also didn’t want to give our young kids a false sense of reality on what big-time basketball is about.”SU’s rotation this season features a handful of freshmen playing their first collegiate minutes as well as a transfer, Kiara Lewis. Hillsman’s goal is to prepare them for playing against opponents in the Atlantic Coast Conference, arguably the best in the country, by getting them experience against top teams.
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