Nearly every Syracuse Orange fan remembers the shenanigans of 2003 when the Orange, bags packed for the ACC, were replaced at the last minute by Virginia Tech, courtesy of then-Va. governor Mark Warner's insistence. The move would result in a decade-long run of success for the Hokies in their new home, while SU spent nearly 10 years struggling in the Big East.
But what if things had happened the other way? What if Jim Boeheim's complaints about the switch fell on deaf ears, and what if Warner's efforts to upgrade the Hokies were undone before he could extract them from the Big East? Would things have gone dramatically different for Syracuse in the ACC all this time?
With some help from sports simulation site WhatIfSports.com, we can take at least a speculative look at what might've been for Syracuse on a season-by-season basis. While these simulations won't build new recruiting classes or anything like that, we can take a look at where the Orange would've fallen overall, had they made the ACC switch earlier.
Please note that for our purposes here, we’ll simply use Virginia Tech's in-conference slate, so as not to create a brand new scheduling matrix. SU will also compete in football's Coastal division (rather than the Atlantic division they've been placed in in real life), just as Virginia Tech did starting in their second ACC season. Obviously this won't matter for basketball.
Non-conference record: 12-2
Syracuse 88, Florida State 74
In this season's ACC opener, Syracuse runs-and-guns its way to a big win, putting up 52 points at halftime en route to a comfortable win over the Seminoles. Gerry McNamara and Eric Devendorf both top 20 points and the contest is never really that close. (13-2) (1-0)
#20 North Carolina 73, #24 Syracuse 66
The Orange struggle with foul trouble all night as the Heels outlast SU at the Carrier Dome. UNC's Bobby Frasor leads all scorers, with 19 points on the game. (13-3) (1-1)
#24 Syracuse 85, Virginia 64
Demetris Nichols puts on a show at the Dome in this one, shooting five-of-seven from three, while scoring 24 points overall. Syracuse also plays stifling defense throughout the contest, holding the Hoos to just 34-percent shooting on the night. (14-3) (2-1)
#25 Syracuse 69, #21 Maryland 59
'Cuse scores a quality road win over a ranked Terps team, dominating on the defensive end for the second straight contest. Though nether team shot all that well from the floor, SU is led once more by Gerry McNamara, who had 18 points on the game. (15-3) (3-1)
#20 Syracuse 78, #2 Duke 75
Pandemonium at the Carrier Dome as Gerry McNamara hits the game-winner at the buzzer and the Orange knock off the second-ranked team in the nation. After a rough first half dominated by Duke's Shelden Williams and J.J. Reddick, Syracuse turned it on in the second, ultimately pulling off the major upset. (16-3) (4-1)
#20 Syracuse 71, Wake Forest 70
Syracuse gets locked in yet another come-from-behind nail-biter, barely outlasting the Demon Deacons down in Winston-Salem. This time around, Eric Devendorf plays hero, hitting two key free throws with just two seconds remaining to put SU ahead for good. (17-3) (5-1)
Georgia Tech 83, #11 Syracuse 73
The Orange only shoot 28 percent from the floor in the second half, and the downtrodden Ramblin' Wreck come out of the Dome with a huge victory. Georgia Tech would shoot 54-percent from three on the game, and outscored SU by 13 over the final nine minutes. (17-4) (5-2)
#15 Boston College 81, #11 Syracuse 75
Reuniting after a one-year hiatus while the Eagles were still in the Big East, the BC and SU rivalry fails to disappoint in its first ACC rendition. Pounding the ball inside, Boston College manages to put the entire Orange starting lineup in foul trouble, but it's Jared Dudley's hot shooting that makes the difference -- first forcing overtime, then sealing the deal with free throws in the extra period. (17-5) (5-3)
#19 Syracuse 68, Clemson 66
Gerry McNamara's the only Orange player to score in double figures (25 points), and SU is forced to battle it out in yet another close match-up. While SU had no trouble shooting the ball, it was second-chance points that kept the Tigers hanging around till the end, since they out-rebounded Syracuse by 16 on the night. (18-5) (6-3)
Virginia 78, #19 Syracuse 67
Syracuse's extended tailspin continues, as they're absolutely smoked by a mediocre Virginia team down in Charlottesville. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds each score 24 for the Cavaliers, and this one's over by halftime. (18-6) (6-4)
#18 NC State 70, #25 Syracuse 47
Despite a week off between games, it doesn't much matter for the Orange, who are now dropping steadily toward the NCAA tournament bubble. SU shoots a miserable 33 percent on the game, and Gerry McNamara (11 points) is the only player to hit double-figures. Afterward, Jim Boeheim refers to this one of the most embarrassing losses in his tenure. (18-7) (6-5)
Syracuse 56, Miami 46
Syracuse's offense continues to struggle, but the defense comes on strong in the second half, holding the Hurricanes to just 21 points over the final 20 minutes. Still, much of the scoring burden falls on Gerry McNamara, the only Orange player to score more than 11 points (he finished with 15). (19-7) (7-5)
Syracuse 60, Florida State 57
SU battles back from a double-digit deficit in the first half, scoring 39 in the second to pull off the win. Still, there's cause for concern on the offensive side, as the Orange fail to score 70 points for the fifth straight game. (20-7) (8-5)
Syracuse 77, Clemson 58
The Orange shake off a month's-worth of rust, as Eric Devendorf connects on 67 percent of his 15 shots, en route to a 25-point night. Clemson never really got that close in this one, as SU's interior defense suffocated them into 17 turnovers (mostly under the rim) and just 37-percent shooting. (21-7) (9-5)
#2 Duke 89, #24 Syracuse 70
J.J.. Reddick and the Blue Devils exact some revenge on the Orange down in Durham, blowing the doors off SU from the onset. On the strength of 70-percent shooting in the first half, Duke was up by 20 and never looked back. (21-8) (9-6)
#7 Boston College 74, #24 Syracuse 63
Syracuse wraps up a brutal end-of-season stretch with a loss up in Chestnut Hill. Like Duke earlier in the week, the Eagles started off shooting hot and the Orange just never recovered, falling well short of their second-half comeback bid. (21-9) (9-7) 5th in the ACC
ACC Tournament First Round: Syracuse 77, Wake Forest 72
After yet another first-half scare, SU avoids the Demon Deacons' upset bid and advances to the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Demetris Nichols leads the way for the Orange, hitting five-of-seven threes en route to a 23-point performance. (22-9) (9-7)
ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: NC State 62, Syracuse 53
Terrence Roberts is the only Syracuse player to score in double-digits, and Syracuse flames out of the ACC tournament in resounding fashion. They're not on the tournament bubble, but the team's outlook for the NCAAs doesn't look all that great. (22-10) (9-7)
NCAA Tournament: Syracuse Settles for No. 10 Seed in Atlanta Regional
Round of 64: #10 Syracuse 75, #7 California 47
The Orange play what is arguably their best game in months, advancing past Cal to get to the second round. After a close first half, SU outscored the Golden Bears 47-27 in the second, behind the hot shooting hand of Demetris Nichols (19 points).
Round of 32: #2 Texas 83, #10 Syracuse 49
Syracuse doesn't have a shot in hell against the Longhorns, and that's never made more apparent than the 44-15 scoring margin in the second half. Gerry McNamara ends his Syracuse career with one of the worst tournament losses Syracuse has seen, and (surprise!) Jim Boeheim can't even bring himself to talk to the media afterward.
In this alternate timeline, the 2005-06 basketball season is a bit of a mixed bag. While SU managed a slightly better record (23-11; versus 23-12 in real life) and a tournament win, they also miss out on all the parts of the season that made it so memorable. "OVERRATED?!" Gerry's four days-worth of miracles at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament. The then record-setting attendance for his final home game in a Syracuse uniform. All of it, virtually scrubbed away by this re-imagined history.
Next up: Syracuse's 2006 football season, in which the alternate retelling still fails to erase the Iowa game from my memory.