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, SU's most lopsided non-conference losses each season have been dropped in favor of one or more in-conference game (depending on necessity). Additionally, each year will 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 (2005).
Non-conference record: 10-3
Maryland 94, Syracuse 87
The "Dynasty" gets off to a rough start in the ACC, as the Terps throttle the Orange at the Dome in early January. Greivis Vasquez lights up SU for 25 points and 12 assists, and the home team decidedly refuses to play defense for nearly the entire contest. On the bright side, the team gets contributions in the paint from both Paul Harris (20 points) and Arinze Onuaku (23), who make up for poor shooting by freshman Donte Greene. (10-4) (0-1)
Wake Forest 71, Syracuse 60
SU shoots hits just 39 percent of their shots, struggling to get any momentum going on offense against the Demon Deacons. Jonny Flynn is the only Orange player to hit double-figures and the team finds itself off to a very rough start in conference play, with fans already hitting the panic button. (10-5) (0-2)
Syracuse 81, Virginia 79
Another struggle on the both ends, but due to a wide collection of contributors, SU holds on late. Jonny Flynn, Greene, Harris and Onuaku all score in double figures, though all find themselves in foul trouble in the closing minutes, too. Still, a win's a win. (11-5) (1-2)
Syracuse 77, Georgia Tech 68
Syracuse cruises past a weak Yellow Jackets team on the road, as they start to hit a rhythm on defense as well. Flynn and Greene lead the way in scoring, while Onuaku and Harris clean up the boards once again, scoring the Orange a surprising 10-rebound advantage for the contest. (12-5) (2-2)
#3 Duke 88, Syracuse 73
The Orange's first big home game of the season does not go according to plan as the highly-ranked Blue Devils run right through SU in front of 29,000 fans. Six different Duke players score in double figures and they shoot 60-percent from the floor as a team. Meanwhile, SU goes two-of-12 from three and just 42 percent overall in a disappointing performance. (12-6) (2-3)
Syracuse 73, Boston College 60
Catching their rivals in a tailspin, SU jumps out to a big lead in Chestnut Hill and never looks back en route to a nice bounceback victory. Flynn and Onuaku score 20 apiece, but Greene's struggles continue as he misses all 10 shots taken in 23 minutes. Kris Ongenaet puts in a surprising six points and six boards in mop-up duty. (13-6) (3-3)
Syracuse 72, Florida State 63
Syracuse is hot on defense yet again, stifling every FSU shooter but Toney Douglas, who manages to lead all scorers with 20 points on the night. Five Orange players wind up in double-figures, most notably Eric Devendorf, who scores 17 after going four-of-eight from three-point range. (14-6) (4-3)
Syracuse 79, Virginia 70
Donte Green turns in his second straight game shooting 60-percent from the field, recording 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 31 minutes. Harris leads a strong rebounding effort for SU, grabbing 12 as the team beats UVa 45-32 on the boards. (15-6) (5-3)
Syracuse 83, NC State 74
Flynn and Onuaku score 21 apiece for the Orange as SU scores another big road victory in the ACC. As a team, Syracuse shoots 54 percent from the floor, while holding the Wolfpack to just 40 percent on a frustrating afternoon for the partisan Raleigh crowd. (16-6) (6-3)
Syracuse 79, Miami 78
Syracuse rides another hot shooting performance (53 percent on the game) to eek out a very close win over the Hurricanes. After trailing for nearly the entire contest, the Orange came alive in the final four minutes. Paul Harris was the star of the show, tallying a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Eric Devendorf hit two threes late in the second half to guide the Orange through. (17-6) (7-3)
#25 Syracuse 97, #5 North Carolina 94 (OT)
After a game-tying three from Eric Devendorf at the end of regulation, Syracuse forces overtime against UNC in Chapel Hill, then follows it up with another dagger at the horn to pull off the major upset. Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina have their way with the SU defense throughout, but it's the Orange clutch shooting (53 percent on the game) that allows them to prevail in thrilling fashion for the second straight game. (18-6) (8-3)
Maryland 82, #21 Syracuse 70
Syracuse's six-game winning streak comes to an abrupt halt on the road at College Park, and the Terps ride a strong second half to a big victory over the Orange. As a team, SU struggled shooting the ball (42 percent from the floor, 11 percent from three), though Donte Greene continued having a hot hand, scoring 22 points. (18-7) (8-4)
Georgai Tech 73, #21 Syracuse 68
Another game, another upset. Syracuse loses its second straight to an unranked opponent, as Anthony Morrow and Georgia Tech use late game heroics to pull off the win at the Carrier Dome. Looking listless on a Saturday afternoon, SU allows Tech to beat them despite shooting just 37 percent from the field. Paul Harris is the only standout for the Orange, recording another double-double (18 points, 14 boards). (18-8) (8-5)
Syracuse 83, Boston College 72
Syracuse bounces back for a win over BC, despite some late-game free throw struggles that give Jim Boeheim fits on the sideline. Jonny Flynn leads a strong scoring effort for SU, with 21 points, while Donte Green records a rare double-double for himself. Eric Devendorf continues his strong scoring off the bench, with 14 points on five-of-nine shooting. (19-8) (9-5)
Syracuse 86, Wake Forest 76
Continuing their drive toward one of the ACC tournament's top seeds, Syracuse scores another key conference victory after out-scoring Wake by 13 in the second half. As has been the story nearly all season, Harris and Onuaku's strong post play led the way, as the Orange shot 56 percent from the field. (20-8) (10-5)
#25 Clemson 85, Syracuse 75
SU gets knocked down to the fifth-place line after losing the season finale, effectively a tie-break game with Clemson (and having already lost the tiebreak with fellow 10-6 team, Maryland). Losing three of five to end the year, the firm place the Orange had on the right side of the bubble suddenly looks a bit more tenuous. Jim Boeheim tells the media that he'll worry about his team, and for them to stay out of it. (20-9) (10-6)
ACC Tournament First Round: Syracuse 81, NC State 80
A late Arinze Onuaku tip-in spares the Orange an embarrassing defeat against the 12-seeded Wolfpack and the Orange manage a death-defying one-point win. Despite a significant size advantage and shooting 50 percent on the game, SU just couldn't pull away from NC State until the final seconds, when Onuaku played hero for a brief second. (21-9) (10-6)
ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: Syracuse 65, Maryland 59
The third time's the charm for Syracuse, finally putting together a gameplan to get past the Terrapins after two lopsided losses earlier in the season. Though the offense never really got going (just 42 percent shooting), Harris and Onuaku were able to control the paint and grab enough offensive boards (seven between them) to make the difference. Flynn also played a huge part, grabbing five steals, all from Maryland's Greivis Vasquez. (22-9) (10-6)
ACC Tournament Semifinals: North Carolina 87, Syracuse 63
Down 12 after one half, Syracuse doesn't stand a chance in this one as North Carolina is dead set on playing for the ACC crown. Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson combine for 44 points and the Heels have this one wrapped up by five minutes into the second half. Still, Syracuse is headed to the NCAA tournament by the skin of their teeth, which is good enough for Orange fans. (22-10) (10-6)
NCAA Tournament: Syracuse Nabs Final At-Large Bid Available with No. 11 Seed in East Region
Round of 64: #6 Oklahoma 77, #11 Syracuse 55
it's doubtful anyone realized just how outmatched Syracuse was in this game before witnessing it actually happen. But after just one game, the Orange are gone from the tournament - so thoroughly embarrassed by the Sooners, they may have been better off not showing up at all. Blake Griffin abuses SU for 28 points in the paint and immediately following the game, Donte Greene declares for the NBA Draft, effectively killing off the "Dynasty" after one misguided season. (22-11) (10-6)
In real life, Syracuse sleep-walked through a sham of a campaign, going 19-13 with an early exit from the Big East tournament. They'd win two games in the NIT, but found themselves losing to UMass (for the second time that season) right before that tournament's Final Four. So was this a better result? Can't say I know for sure. Yes, they made the tournament, but a 22-point loss isn't something to brag about. Alas, this is probably how the "Dynasty" was supposed to end anyway.
Next up: Syracuse's 2008 football season. Do we wish for success, or for the arrival of one Doug Marrone following yet another losing campaign? Find out next week.