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: 11-1 (removed real-life non-conference game vs. Virginia)
#11 Syracuse 83, #5 Duke 80
Syracuse starts its ACC schedule strong, scoring a major road victory over top-five Duke. Jonny Flynn and Andy Rautins guide most of the scoring, with 21 and 17, respectively, and the Orange shoot 54 percent from the field for the afternoon. After a hot start, the Blue Devils went just 20 percent from three in the second half and simply had no answer for SU down the stretch. (12-1) (1-0)
#5 Syracuse 85, Virginia 72
Unlike the real-life matchup between these two teams in the 2008-09 season, this one would never be all that close. Syracuse scored 50 in the first half and coasted to the finish as the Hoos were simply out-gunned by SU's hot three-point shooting. The Orange hit 69 percent from beyond the arc, with Jonny Flynn, Andy Rautin and Eric Devendorf hitting four apiece from long range. (13-1) (2-0)
Boston College 99, #5 Syracuse 80
Despite a week off between games, it doesn't much matter for SU, as they get trounced at the Carrier Dome by rival Boston College. Neither team plays much defense in this one, but the Eagles simply could not be stopped, shooting 64 percent from the floor on the afternoon to pull off the major upset. (13-2) (2-1)
#9 Syracuse 83, #1 Wake Forest 74
The Orange score their second top-five road victory in three weeks, knocking off the top-ranked Demon Deacons down in Winston-Salem in front of a national television audience. After a rough start (just 32 points in the first half), Syracuse got hot in the second half, forcing 15 turnovers en route to 22 transition points during the final 20 minutes. To a stunned press room afterward, Jim Boeheim states he'll be taking the team out to Denny's to celebrate. (14-2) (3-1)
#9 Syracuse 70, Miami 63
Syracuse gets a scare toward the end of the game, as their free throw shooting suddenly goes cold (just 13-for-23 on the game), but they do hold on for the victory over Miami. Jonny Flynn is once again the leading scorer for the Orange, tallying 23, while Rick Jackson scored 16 and pulled down 11 rebounds. (15-2) (4-1)
#5 Syracuse 88, #12 Clemson 82
Despite a second-half onslaught from Clemson's Terrence Oglesby (29 points), Syracuse holds on for yet another win over a ranked opponent. Both Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris record double-doubles for the Orange, and the team shoots 58 percent in the win. Most surprising were Paul Harris's two late threes, to which Jim Boeheim said following the game, "Even though it worked out, I'd prefer he didn't do that." (16-2) (5-1)
#5 Syracuse 77, Boston College 59
Revenge is sweet for Syracuse, as they run Boston College out of their own building in this late January matchup. Rather than relying on outside shooting, it's SU's big men that guide the way against the Eagles, as Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku each score 17 points. (17-2) (6-1)
NC State 77, #3 Syracuse 68
Another full week off to get prepared for an unranked opponent at home, another huge upset loss for the Orange. Jonny Flynn is the only Syracuse player to score in double digits (28 points), while the rest of the team shoots a forgettable 34 percent from the field in the disappointing defeat. (17-3) (6-2)
#6 Syracuse 80, Georgia Tech 57
SU goes up nine at the half, and just keeps running from there, much to the delight of the Dome crowd. The Orange force 21 turnovers on the game and hold Tech to just 27 points in the second half while displaying the type of defensive toughness that pundits have been calling for for weeks. (18-3) (7-2)
#6 Syracuse 79, Maryland 66
The Orange ride another strong defensive effort to an impressive team victory down in College Park. All five starters score in double figures for SU as they utilize a 10-0 run to start the second half in order to pull away for good. Eric Devendorf continues hit hot hand of late, going four-for-five from three and scoring 20 overall in the contest. (19-3) (8-2)
#5 Syracuse 73, Virginia 60
The media can't stop talking about how effective this team has gotten with the 2-3 zone after holding yet another opponent under 70 points. Virginia hits just 37 percent of their shots on the night, while the Orange go 50 percent from three en route to another quality win. Justin Thomas and Brandon Reese even get some burn for SU, combining for seven points in three garbage time minutes near the end of the contest. (20-3) (9-2)
#5 Syracuse 86, Florida State 76
Everyone's buzzing about the upset potential of this one going in, as a hot Florida State team looks to claim a signature victory at the Carrier Dome. However, they'd never really get a chance, despite Toney Douglas scoring 29 points. Syracuse road hot shooting nights from Paul Harris (20) and Andy Rautins (18) to the win, while Jonny Flynn managed to record eight steals during an off-game for him from the floor. (21-3) (10-2)
#4 Syracuse 75, #14 Clemson 72
With time ticking away and the score tied at 72, this one looks like it's headed to overtime. That is, until Jonny Flynn launches up the Orange's first made three of the game with just .3 seconds remaining. Clemson's crowd is stunned as Syracuse celebrates yet another quality road win -- their third against a top-15 team on the season. (22-3) (11-2)
#4 Syracuse 77, #15 Duke 68
Syracuse manages to frustrate Duke yet again, whipping the Carrier Dome crowd into a frenzy as SU kills off the clock on their sixth consecutive ACC win. While shooting above 50 percent from the floor once again, the Orange also manages to bring the heat on defense, forcing the Blue Devils into a very uncharacteristic 21 turnovers. Jonny Flynn leads all scorers (surprise!) with 20 points on the night. (23-3) (12-2)
#2 North Carolina 113, #3 Syracuse 112 (OT)
Billed as "THE BIG ONE" in the lead-up to this Wednesday night matchup, UNC and Syracuse deliver an instant classic to the record Dome crowd of 44,000. After two seesaw halves of basketball, overtime was virtually a three-point shooting contest, and if not for a questionable foul call allowing Danny Green to complete a four-point play, this one likely ends up going to a second OT as well. The win gives the Heels the tiebreaker for the ACC's top seed, relegating Syracuse to second. (23-4) (12-3)
#3 Syracuse 72, #25 Florida State 69
The Orange could not have appeared more gassed following the emotional loss to North Carolina just three days prior. And yet, thanks to a resilient second-half effort from Arinze Onuaku (19 points), the Orange would come out victorious. Toney Douglas was once again the only bright spot for FSU, scoring 33 points in the loss. (24-4) (13-3)
ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: Syracuse 82, Florida State 76
Playing in their second matchup in a week, Syracuse and Florida State engage in yet another tight contest. However, SU is able to outlast the 'Noles once again. Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf lead the way for the Orange, scoring 24 and 19 points, respectively, and SU shoots 54 percent from the floor during the game. (25-4) (13-3)
ACC Tournament Semifinals: Wake Forest 74, Syracuse 73
SU's ACC title dreams end too soon, as Wake pulls off a last-minute victory in their tough semifinals matchup. Despite leading for nearly the entire game, the simply could not close out the Demon Deacons, who came back with a fury over the final five minutes. Jeff Teague would hit the game-winner for Wake Forest, assisted by the fact that Syracuse shot just 52 percent from the free throw line. (25-5) (13-3)
NCAA Tournament: Syracuse Rides Strong Regular Season Performance to No. 2 Seed in East Regional.
Round of 64: #2 Syracuse 74, #15 Binghamton 50
Binghamton never really has an answer for Syracuse and the Orange roll through their first round matchup between the two New York schools. SU's starters are rested early in the route, giving surprising tourney playing time to Brandon Reese, Justin Thomas and Mookie Jones (all of whom scored). The Bearcats shot just 35 percent on the game, and looked perpetually frustrated against SU's 2-3 zone. (26-5) (13-3)
Round of 32: #2 Syracuse 90, #7 Texas 73
Syracuse sprints out to a 50-41 lead at halftime and never looks back, routing Texas on their way to the Sweet 16. Eric Devendorf scores an impressive 26 points (4-for-8 from three), carving up the Longhorns' defense in every way possible. Texas never gets much going on offense, settling for ill-advised threes in the second half that ultimately lead to the lopsided loss. (27-5) (13-3)
Sweet 16: #2 Syracuse 94, #3 Villanova 75
Up against their former Big East rivals for the first time, things get testy between the Orange and Wildcats early on. Syracuse allows Scottie (Effing) Reynolds to score his 23 points, but 'Nova gets very little from the team's other scorers, which proves costly in the second half. SU shoots over 50 percent from the floor yet again, and also gets another opportunity to toss in the walk-ons, much to the chagrin of Villanova fans. (28-5) (13-3)
Elite 8: #1 Pittsburgh 83, #2 Syracuse 73 (OT)
Another former Big East game for Syracuse, though this one doesn't go nearly as well as the first one did. Pittsburgh has the Orange's number from the onset, only having to go to overtime after late foul trouble on Sam Young brings SU back into it. In OT, however, the Panthers manage to pull away, with Young and DeJuan Blair combing for 12 of Pitt's 15 points in the period. Syracuse season ends in accomplished disappointment. (28-6) (13-3)
In real-life, this Syracuse team was bipolar all season and if not for the amazing Six Overtime Game against UConn in the Big East Tournament, they'd be a mostly forgettable group. This fictional version of the team went one round further in the NCAAs, but at what price? Would we trade an Elite 8 trip for the Six Overtime Game? Somehow I doubt it.
Next up: The arrival of Doug Marrone signals a new era for Syracuse football. But will it be a more successful one?