After losing in the Patriot League semifinals to Colgate last season, the Lehigh men’s basketball team is looking for a redemption season in which they will play three teams from Power Five conferences: Syracuse (ACC), Virginia Tech (ACC) and Wisconsin (Big Ten).
The team’s schedule, which was released earlier this month, revealed that Lehigh will open its season against Syracuse on Nov. 7 on the road. Syracuse, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, has appeared in the NCAA tournament 37 times, winning it all in 2003.
Lehigh will then travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, on Nov. 10 to play Virginia Tech, which was the 11th seed in the East in last year’s NCAA tournament.
“Especially since it’s the beginning of the year, it is a great way for us to test how good we are and see what we can learn from, especially since we are playing teams like Syracuse and Virginia Tech, back-to-back,” senior guard Evan Taylor said.
Taylor said he is also looking forward to playing Wisconsin for the first time on Dec. 15 because it differs from typical Patriot League games.
Every season, associate coach Harry Morra said Lehigh plays three Power Five schools to gain experience and better understand themselves as a team. Last season, Lehigh opened the season at Rutgers and played games against Virginia and Maryland.
“It has been a staple of Lehigh basketball for the last ten years,” Morra said. “We go on and win some of those games, as well. We are always excited to test ourselves against teams from the ACC and the Big Ten. It is just exciting for our guys to play on that stage and feel that caliber of a program.”
Morra said one of the most important roles for Lehigh’s head coach Brett Reed and other Division I coaches is finding a schedule for their team which includes scheduling high-level, Power Five conference teams.
“If you believe this or not, it is very similar to recruiting,” Morra said. “There is always something better out there. You always could be finding better competition, more money, whatever the variable is you are looking at.”
Lehigh’s Stabler Arena holds a capacity of 5,600 people while Syracuse’s Carrier Dome holds 34,000 people.
Senior guard Jake Betlow said this different atmosphere of games is why he came to Lehigh.
“You get fired up to play big schools like that and get a chance to beat them,” Betlow said. “It is just a great experience and memories that you make with your teammates and coaches that you are never going to forget. (These are) stories that you are going to get to tell your kids.”
Morra said the team has been training all summer and fall for these games because many of the teams the Mountain Hawks will be playing are high-execution teams.
After last year’s difficult end to the season, Betlow said the team is looking to bounce back and has a lot of confidence in themselves.
After losing three players to graduation, the majority of the roster is returning, with four freshman additions.
Betlow said the team has the same goal as last year: to play in March.
“If we can win the Patriot League and maybe shock a team in the first round, that is something that we have been dreaming about since we were 4 and 5 years old, with a basketball in our hands,” Betlow said. “That is always the goal, and especially this year, as a senior, I just want to lock it in.”