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: 11-3
#5 Duke 73, Syracuse 64
Beyond Eric Devendorf, the Orange offense just never gets going down in Durham, and SU drops its ACC opener. Four players finish in double figures for the Blue Devils, led by Greg Paulus, who put up 23 points while shooting seven-of-11 from the field. (11-4) (0-1)
#1 North Carolina, Syracuse 57
Syracuse is absolutely thrashed by the nation's top team at home, as the offense struggles once again. Following a close first half, UNC outscored the Orange by 20 in the second, mostly on the strength of Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington (15 points apiece). (11-5) (0-2)
Syracuse 69, Florida State 58
SU got up on the 'Noles early and just never seemed to take their foot off the gas, even during a rough patch in the early second half that saw them commit turnovers on five straight possessions. Demetris Nichols scored the bulk of Syracuse's points (17), while Daryl "Mookie" Watkins controlled the paint on defense with nine boards and five blocks. (12-5) (1-2)
Syracuse 79, #22 Maryland 69
More offensive fireworks from the Orange, as Demetris Nichols puts up 27 to lead a team that shot 51 percent from the floor. Beyond D.J. Strawberry, the Terps struggled from the floor, hitting just 41 percent of their shots, while getting blocked 14 times on the night. (13-5) (2-2)
Syracuse 77, Miami 66
Terrence Roberts puts in a surprising offensive display, en route to 20 points (on 8-of-10 shooting), and the Orange cruise to another big ACC win -- their third straight. Five different Syracuse players scored in double digits and SU shot above 50 percent from the floor for the second consecutive game. (14-5) (3-2)
Syracuse 73, Georgia Tech 64
Eric Devendorf scores 20 of his 22 points in the second half, and Syracuse wins another big ACC road game (and their fourth consecutive win overall). SU's second-half defense held Tech to just 30 percent shooting, and only one Yellow Jacket player (Thaddeus Young) hit double figures on the game. (15-5) (4-2)
Syracuse 66, NC State 57
Andy Rautins ends up being the only SU player in double figures (17 points) as the Orange defense comes up big in the second half to preserve the win. NC State only manages to score 24 points over the final 20 minutes, capping off a terrible shooting night (just 30 percent from the floor on the game). (16-5) (5-2)
Boston College 74, Syracuse 63
The runaway freight train that had become the Syracuse Orange was finally brought to a halt in Chestnut Hill. Jared Dudley led BC with 25 points, and Syracuse shot just 33 percent on the afternoon in the loss. Demetrius Nichols (14 points) was the only SU player to put up more than 10 on the day. (16-6) (5-3)
Virginia 81, Syracuse 72
Syracuse falls victim to yet another hot shooting team, as the Hoos light up the Orange for 51 points in the second half. UVA's Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds combine for 47 points on the game, and SU's tournament chances begin to sink like a rock. (16-7) (5-4)
North Carolina 87, Syracuse 66
Two meeting with UNC, two twenty-point losses. The Syracuse tailspin continues as they're outscored by double digits in both halves, while watching Demetris Nichols chuck up 21 shots (and connect on just seven of them). Worst of all, Matt Gorman sees 20 minutes of playing time, yet still scores just two points. (16-8) (5-5)
Syracuse 67, NC State 58
SU ends the losing streak at three, scoring a must-have win versus the Wolfpack. Freshman Paul Harris logs his first significant minutes of ACC play, and rewards the team with 10 points and eight rebounds. But it's Eric Devendorf that's the star of the game, scoring 15 points, while tallying six assists, three rebounds and two steals. (17-8) (6-5)
Syracuse 74, Boston College 65
The Orange exact revenge on Boston College, shooting 50 percent on the night en route to a big win. Jared Dudley is the only player to hit double figures for BC, while four different players score 15 or more for SU (led by Demetris Nichols, with 18 points). Bubble talk continues, though SU is still in dire need of a marquee win. (18-8) (7-5)
Syracuse 71, Miami 60
Syracuse wins yet another game it absolutely has to, stymieing Miami's offense up at the Carrier Dome. Eric Devendorf leads the way for SU, scoring 18 points on eight-of-nine shooting, and SU manages to own the glass as a team against the Hurricanes (44 boards total). (19-8) (8-5)
#25 Virginia 71, Syracuse 67
While SU was not expected to beat UVA on their home floor, the Orange sure needed to for their NCAA Tournament hopes' sake. Syracuse kept it close throughout, but in the end, it was Sean Singletary's clutch free throws that ultimately sunk them and any shot SU had at a comeback. (19-9) (8-6)
Clemson 81, Syracuse 75
In a critical battle of bubble teams, Syracuse just can't get it done on either end of the floor versus Clemson. Despite a respectable shooting night from the three-point line (8-of-18), SU's shooters just can't connect from elsewhere and the Tigers ride Cliff Hammonds's hot hand to a key victory. (19-10) (8-7)
Syracuse 85, Wake Forest 59
While it's certainly not a resume-booster, it doesn't hurt either, as Syracuse closes out the regular season with a resounding victory over hapless Wake. No Demon Deacon players hit double figures, while six Orange players score 10 or more in an absolute rout at the Dome. (20-10) (9-7)
ACC Tournament First Round: Syracuse 67, Wake Forest 57
Syracuse and Wake face off for the second straight game, and while the Deacs close the gap a bit this time, the Orange still pull off the victory. Both teams struggle from the floor in this one, so it's defense that leads the way. SU's Mookie Watkins controls the paint (nine boards, five blocks) and Demetris Nichols makes up for his poor shooting by collecting four steals. (21-10) (9-7)
ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: Boston College 78, Syracuse 72
The Orange just can't get it done against the Eagles, falling despite Demetris Nichols's 24 points. No other Syracuse player would hit double-digits however, sealing SU's fate, both in the tournament and on the bubble. There would be no question about whether or not they'd make the tournament, after dropping their final chance to pad the resume a bit. (21-11) (9-7)
Though Selection Sunday would not contain the same drama as it did in real life, Syracuse would experience the same result -- two seed in the NIT's South Regional, and a quarterfinal loss at Clemson. For the first time in awhile, there's nothing at all memorable about a Syracuse basketball season; the 23-12 mark serves as an apparent black-eye on a program just four years removed from a national championship.
Next up: Syracuse's 2007 football season, in which the Orange look to avoid a 2-1-0 record this time around.