For the first time since 2013, Syracuse men’s basketball is in Hawaii for the Maui Jim Invitational tournament. The Orange (3-0, 0-0 in ACC) open up their week in Honolulu with a matchup against number seven Tennessee (3-0, 0-0 in SEC). The Volunteers are both SU’s first power five and ranked test of the 2023-2024 season.
Syracuse’s fourth time competing in the Maui Jim Invitational comes at an interesting time for the program. Each of SU’s first three runs in Maui ended with the Orange winning the whole thing. However, this season looks a lot different. Syracuse is the only squad in the tournament (other than the host school, division two Chaminade) to not make the 2023 NCAA tournament.
The Orange’s first opponent, Tennessee, is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The Vols sit at seventh in the nation, and have already proven themselves early on against top tier opponents. Tennessee edged formerly fourth ranked Michigan State in the preseason, and took care of Wisconsin on its first road test of the regular season.
The Volunteers are led by fifth year guard Dalton Knecht. Through the first three games of the season, Knecht is averaging 19.7 points per game in his first season in Knoxville. The Northern Colorado transfer has exploded onto the scene in his first year of power five basketball. Going from relatively unknown, to being named as a contender for the Wooden award given to the most outstanding player in college basketball. Knecht’s early flashes have also caught the attention of Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes.
“He’s got some natural ability obviously,” said Barnes “I think it says a lot about him that he wants to be a part of a winning program and a winning team.”
The Volunteers have won each of their first three matchups by double figures. SU on the other hand hasn’t been as comfortable. The Orange travel to Hawaii following a heart racing 79-75 win over Colgate. A victory where they trailed by as much as 24 points in the second half, making it the second largest comeback in ACC history. Syracuse head coach Adrian Autry credited the historic comeback to a simple philosophy.
“We’ve been playing four minute games,” said Autry. “That’s what we play in practice, four minute games. Our goal was, every four minutes, let’s look up and see where we are.”
Much of the late game heroics for SU came on the defensive end. A man-to-man defense and a full court press forced an experienced Colgate team to commit 19 turnovers, including five in a crucial 1:30 stretch.
The hustle and intensity that Aurty touted post game could come in handy for SU. The Orange are heavy underdogs in a field that includes No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 11 Gonzaga and a UCLA team that is receiving top 25 votes in the AP poll.
Syracuse’s matchup with Tennessee is slated for Monday at 2:30 p.m. EST. You can catch the action from SU’s time in Hawaii right here on WAER. Coverage from the original home of the Orange begins with McClurg Remodeling Countdown to Tipoff at 2:00.