Originally written for College Hoops Digest
In an exclusive interview with College Hoops Digest, Bryant head coach Jared Grasso told us that the Bulldogs currently plan to open their 2020-21 campaign at Syracuse.
“As of right now, Syracuse will be our opener,” said Grasso. “That’s one thing that I’m just about 100% sure of.” The contest, according to sources, will be played on November 27th.
As many smaller Division I schools have essentially been forced to rebuild their schedule from the ground-up, Bryant found Syracuse a logical fit to open the year. While the two schools have never met up, the opportunity to play a Power Five team - such as one in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) - and within driving distance is most assuredly an attractive option for a mid-major school looking to round out its schedule with regional opponents.
The plan, Grasso told College Hoops Digest, will be to play the contest at Syracuse’s famed Carrier Dome, which is the largest domed stadium on any college campus in North America. It can hold more than 49,000 fans for football contests, and just over 33,000 for basketball.
“We will play the game at the Carrier Dome,” Grasso told us. “I don’t know what will happen fans-wise, but I’m not concerned one way or the other. As far as I know right now, the game’s going to be played at the Dome.”
Although Bryant hasn’t played at a venue as large as what Syracuse Orange fans affectionately refer to as “The Loud House,” Jared Grasso is no stranger to the Carrier Dome. “I played at the Carrier Dome as a player (at Quinnipiac) and as a coach for Iona. It’s a great place, and the opportunity to coach against Jim Boeheim - who is a Hall of Famer - is something I look forward to.”
Grasso says the plan is to bus to Syracuse rather than to fly - it’d be approximately a 300-mile trip taking a bit over 5 hours from the Bryant campus to Syracuse. He cites the potential influx of Thanksgiving travelers in airports as another reason for ground transport rather than flying. With restrictions on travel in response to COVID-19 precautions, this trend should continue across Division I basketball.
Per CBS’s Jon Rothstein’s discussion with Jim Boeheim at the end of September, Syracuse’s matchup against Bryant appears to be part of a larger three-team MTE hosted by the Orange. Syracuse currently has a home matchup against Georgetown scheduled for sometime in November or December, and a game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Original reports from Zach Braziller of the New York Post claimed that Bryant had been the fourth team in the MTE hosted by St. John’s during the opening weekend. St. John’s, who will host the event at Carnesecca Arena on campus in Queens, has verbal commitments from Manhattan and La Salle to participate. According to Braziller, Bryant withdrew from the MTE due to “scheduling conflicts”; it almost certainly would have interfered with their season opener in upstate New York.
Once official, Bryant will play Syracuse for the first time in program history, and an ACC school for the 4th time over the last 5 years. The Bulldogs will certainly look for a change of fortune, as they haven’t had much success with ACC opponents in recent times. Their last meeting against an ACC foe came against Louisville, who cruised to a 102-59 victory in 2017. Earlier in that same season, NC State enjoyed a 95-72 win over the Bulldogs in Raleigh.
In years prior, Bryant opened their 2015 season against #4 Duke; the reigning national champion rode a 28-point performance from Grayson Allen to steamroll the Bulldogs 113-75. The very next season, Bryant dropped their season opener against Notre Dame, who at the time entered their 4th season in the ACC.
As far as the rest of the schedule goes, Grasso told us there’s certainly a plan in place, but there are plenty of roadblocks still to be overcome.
“It’s still pretty fluid right now,” said Grasso. ““We have agreements with several teams...it’s just about getting the contracts signed. We’re in a little bit of limbo - like everybody - we’re just waiting on contracts, and waiting on the conference [NEC] to make some decisions on definitive dates to start conference play. Once that takes place, we’ll be able to sign some contracts and knock out that portion of our schedule. Things are changing daily.”
This comes shortly after the Patriot League’s announcement that they will not play any conference-sponsored sports until at least January 2021. “That moved a game or two for us,” said Grasso.
It’s still unclear which opponent that may have cost the Bulldogs. The Patriot League had long been a potential source of games for schools in the Northeast Conference and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), whose member institutions primarily reside in the same geographic area as the Patriot League. Holy Cross and reigning Patriot League champion Boston University are both within an hour’s distance of Bryant, and could have been potential suitors to meet the Bulldogs this winter.
Of note, Bryant was also slated to play in the Junkanoo Jam, a multi-team event scheduled for November 20th to 23rd in the Bahamas. It appears that the MTE will no longer take place, according to Grasso.
“The organizer of the event tried to put something together in Nashville, and that’s something we aren’t looking to play in this year, unfortunately,” said Grasso. “Going to the Bahamas would’ve been a great experience for our guys, and it’s something we’ll look at doing in the future...hopefully next season.”
Typically played in the Bahamas, the field included BYU, Tulsa, Boston College, and George Mason. Bryant had matchups scheduled with Boston College and George Mason at their own sites ahead of the “semifinal” rounds in the Bahamas, but those appear to be lost as well.