ACC Realignment What-If: 2009-10 Syracuse Basketball Season

USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse didn't make it to the ACC when the league expanded back in 2004; but what if the Orange had been added originally, instead of Virginia Tech?

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: 13-0

#5 Syracuse 74, #9 North Carolina 70

Andy Rautins's strong three-point shooting guides the Orange to its first ACC victory of the year against fellow top-10 team North Carolina. The senior sharpshooter scored a game-high 17 points, while also doling out nine assists. In total, five different Syracuse players scored in double figures, and the team even had a Mookie Jones sighting late in the fourth. He somehow scored five points in just two minutes on the floor. (14-0) (1-0)

#3 Syracuse 74, #23 Miami 71

Two games against ranked ACC teams, two straight wins for Syracuse to start off conference play. Wesley Johnson led SU with 22 points on 64 percent shooting, and the team played some absolutely stifling defense in the contest's final minutes to hold on for the victory. After starting hot from the floor, Miami hit just 10 shots in the second half and was constantly frustrated by the length of the 2-3 zone, especially as the clock wound down. (15-0) (2-0)

#3 Syracuse 83, #25 Florida State 60

The Orange were not intimidated by the raucous atmosphere in Tallahassee, and their game against the ranked 'Noles was over by halftime. SU took a 49-28 lead into the locker room and simply never looked back, as the team's reserves continued to pour on points. Andy Rautins topped all scorers with 24 points (five threes) and Rick Jackson provided explosive defense force in at the four spot en route to seven blocks. (16-0) (3-0)

#3 Syracuse 78, Boston College 60

Syracuse records their second straight blowout victory, this time against archrival Boston College at the Carrier Dome. Despite a close match at halftime, Jim Boehim allowed the reserves to get extended minutes in the second and the decision paid huge dividends. Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine combined for 29 points of the team's final 42, and the Orange's hot start continued. (17-0) (4-0)

#2 Syracuse 71, Virginia 67

For the fifth consecutive game in conference play, Syracuse shoots a very efficient 50-percent from the field and simply smothers their opponent (here, the Hoos) in the contest's final minutes. Center Arinze Onuaku was the guiding force offensively and defensively, scoring 19 points in the paint to go with seven rebounds and five blocks. SU has their sights set on the top spot in the polls very early in the year. (18-0) (5-0)

#2 Syracuse 81, Miami 72

Facing a five-point deficit after the first 20 minutes, Syracuse finished the game on a 43-23 tear with an unrelenting combination of exceptional offense and defense. Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph combine for 31 points to make up for a poor shooting night by Wes Johnson, while Arinze Onuaku records another double-double. Even Dashonte Riley gets in on the act, scoring four points in garbage time while wrapping up the latest big SU win. (19-0) (6-0)

#1 Syracuse 79, North Carolina 65

Yet another Syracuse game is over by halftime as Coach Boeheim pulls the starters following a 56-30 lead. Despite playing just 20 minutes, Wes Johnson still pulls off a double-double in front of an insane Dome crowd that cannot get enough of the Orange's dominant play. Somehow, 11 players score for SU (including Griffin Hoffman) and they shoot over 50 percent yet again. (20-0) (7-0)

#1 Syracuse 80, Clemson 69

For the second time in three games, Syracuse finds itself facing a halftime deficit. And for the second time, they ride a resounding effort to an enormous home victory. Andy Rautins leads all scorers yet again, nailing five threes while notching 17 points total. Clemson ends up hitting just 39 percent of their shots in the game, and this despite connecting on their first eight threes. Once those stop falling, though, SU makes quick work of the Tigers. (21-0) (8-0)

#1 Syracuse 76, NC State 64

NC State thought they had SU figured out and started the contest chucking up threes to try and beat the zone. They'd never fall, with the Wolfpack going just 4-for-20 from beyond the arc in a crippling loss. Rick Jackson was the star of the game for the Orange, putting up 15 points and 11 rebounds (mostly on threes that fell well short of their target). (22-0) (9-0)

#1 Syracuse 70, Virginia 60

James Southerland scores a surprising 10 points in just five minutes of playing time after some foul trouble by both Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, and that would be the difference in SU's fourth straight double-digit win. Despite apparently coasting through the second half, the Orange still play lockdown defense, holding Virginia to just 27 points. Syracuse is the biggest sports story in the country. (23-0) (10-0)

#1 Syracuse 71, Wake Forest 56

Wes Johnson is the only Syracuse player in double figures, but despite the apparent offensive ineptitude, the nation's top-ranked team wins another one going away. ESPN starts a Jim Boeheim "smile watch" during the post-game presser, to see if SU's head coach will finally give in to the joy of such a spectacular season. Through 24 games, still nothing. (24-0) (11-0)

#5 Duke 87, #1 Syracuse 80

Cameroon Indoor Stadium has rarely been louder than this late-season matchup between two of the country's top five teams. Unfortunately, it was largely due to the fact that the home Blue Devils outscored SU 50-35 in the first half. The Orange would make it respectable in the second -- even getting within four at one point -- but it just wasn't enough to prevent their first loss of the season. (24-1) (11-1)

#2 Syracuse 81, Boston College 72

Syracuse bounces back from the season's first loss with a big win over rival BC. Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson each record a double-double while holding the Eagles to just 38 percent shooting, and the Orange inch closer to the ACC's regular season championship. (25-1) (12-1)

Maryland 73, #2 Syracuse 71

Murmurs of trouble at Syracuse start to get tossed around every radio show in the country after they lose for the second weekend in a row in front of a national audience. SU started the game strong -- holding the Terps to just 22 points after 20 minutes -- but after Wesley Johnson and Arinze Onuaku foul out, there's just no firepower on the offensive or defensive end. Greivis Vasquez would connect on a late two and that was it; another tough loss for the Orange. (25-2) (12-2)

#4 Syracuse 81, NC State 59

Jim Boeheim had just two words for all the naysayers prior to this game: "shut up." And his team would back him up during their demolition of NC State on Senior Night. Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins ended their SU home careers with a show, combining for 35 points before giving way to the walk-ons midway through the second half. (26-2) (13-2)

#4 Syracuse 71, Georgia Tech 62

Syracuse rides a 12-for-20 shooting performance from three-point range to dispatch of Georgia Tech and clinch the outright ACC regular season championship. Wes Johnson managed 18 points on the night, while Kris Joseph was a scoring spark off the bench with 16 of his own in the definitive road victory. (27-2) (14-2)

ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: Syracuse 83, Virginia 62

The Syracuse zone is absolutely relentless from start to finish, holding the Hoos to just 36 percent shooting on the afternoon. Everybody plays a part in both the scoring and rebounding load too, with four players recording double-doubles (led by Wes Johnson's 14 and 10). (28-2) (14-2)

ACC Tournament Semifinals: Syracuse 73, Florida State 56

The Orange put in yet another impressive defensive performance, this time against Florida State, and play themselves into the ACC Championship Game. Not a single Seminole reaches double digits, while Syracuse tallies 15 steals and 15 blocks, effectively suffocating FSU's offense. (29-2) (14-2)

ACC Tournament Championship: Syracuse 76, Georgia Tech 67

Georgia Tech tries to put a scare into Syracuse, but they never seem to fully catch up, giving the Orange their first ACC title. Wes Johnson goes 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 10 minutes and along with Kris Joseph, leads the team to a landmark win; their first ACC championship in football or basketball since leaving the Big East after the 2003-04 academic year. (30-2) (14-2)

***

NCAA Tournament: Syracuse nabs top overall seed, but must play in South Regional (Houston) due to the Carrier Dome playing host to the East Regional

Round of 64: #1 Syracuse 81, #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 55

Arkansas-Pine Bluff can't even hit 30-percent of their shots against the 2-3 zone, while Syracuse simply can't miss from the floor. Wes Johnson and Arinze Onuaku both record double-doubles, while James Southerland puts on a three-point shooting clinic in garbage time. On to the next round for SU. (31-2) (14-2)

Round of 32: #1 Syracuse 68, #8 California 62

Cal never really had to try and get back in this one; they actually led the top-seeded Orange by nine at the break. However, a strong shooting performance by both Wes Johnson (19 points) and Kris Joseph (15 points) in the second half made up for a sluggish first and Syracuse simply pulled away at the end to secure the victory. (32-2) (14-2)

Sweet 16: #1 Syracuse 82, #4 Purdue 73

Syracuse gets back to their high-scoring ways against Purdue, though defensively things are not as locked-in as Jim Boeheim would prefer. Much of that is due to foul trouble for both Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, but no matter -- the Orange go small, letting Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph pick up the slack by scoring a combined 28 off the bench. SU reaches their first Elite 8 since 2003. (33-2) (14-2)

Elite 8: #1 Syracuse 76, #3 Baylor 69

The Orange are headed back to the Final Four! After a slow first half (just 33 points as a team), the second becomes the Wes Johnson show as the junior puts up a monstrous 26 points to help pull away from Baylor. Following the game, Bears head coach Scott Drew calls SU the "most impressive team (I've) ever seen." Jim Boeheim actually manages a smirk while cutting down the nets. (34-2) (14-2)

Final Four: #1 Syracuse 81, #2 West Virginia 55

Old Big East rivals meet again, but it's not a pleasant experience at all for West Virginia, who gets absolutely trounced by the Orange throughout the contest. Things get so out of hand that Mookie Jones and James Southerland combine for 17 points in the second half and Syracuse is headed to the National Championship Game. (35-2) (14-2)

National Championship Game: #1 Syracuse 72, #5 Butler 53

Syracuse puts a cherry on top of the most dominating NCAA Tournament most pundits can ever remember, delivering a resounding 19-point victory over Butler in the title game. Despite playing just 28 minutes (the starters are pulled mid-way through the second), Wes Johnson records another double-double and gets named the tourney's Most Outstanding Player. Jim Boeheim's career now is without caveats -- his two titles and four Final Fours are celebrated, and this team is regarded among the best in the history of the sport. (36-2) (14-2)

***

So this pretty much confirms a couple things we've always insisted upon in that tournament: Arinze's injury made a huge difference, and that Duke got a strangely manageable road to the title game that year, considering they weren't the top seed. With AO actually playing, and with Syracuse taking the same path as the Blue Devils, SU ends up exactly where they should've been; NCAA Champions. This either makes you feel great, or pisses you off even more. Not sure which at the moment...

Next up: What can Doug Marrone do for an encore in 2010, following a surprising bowl bid in his first season?

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