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A brief history of the Syracuse vs. West Virginia rivalry before their NCAA Tournament matchup

Why hello there old frienemy...

Big East Tournament: West Virginia Mountaineers v Syracuse Orange Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

When the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team and the West Virginia Mountaineers take the court opposite each other in the Round of 32 on Sunday evening, it will be the 51st time in history these two programs have faced each other, and the first ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament.

This “rivalry” is born of the programs’ time in the Big East Conference, in which West Virginia saw tremendous success under Bob Huggins, but were constantly stymied by Jim Boeheim’s Orange in the conference regular season and postseason. In fact, Syracuse owns the better record in the series (34-16), and a win on Sunday would match the longest win streak in the series (six games), of which Syracuse has done twice! (1916-1943, 2002-2005) The only solace for WVU? Most of that ‘Cuse success has come at either Manley Fieldhouse or the Carrier Dome; While the Orange are 21-3 at home, they’re just 11-13 at all other venues.

Instead of breaking down all 50 games, I highlighted the big games from this series you’ll likely hear mentioned a few times during Sunday’s broadcast.

1917 Morgantown, WV: Syracuse 32, WVU 21

I can’t find much about this game in terms of stats, but it was the first ever basketball meeting between these two future Big East rivals, and set the tone for the series; Syracuse would win a lot, especially in Morgantown. The Orange would win the next 6 matchups, all at home, with the Mountaineers finally winning one over their rivals in 1952 when ‘Cuse returned to Morgantown.

1976 Springfield, MA: WVU 83, Syracuse 78

Jim Boeheim’s first season at the helm of the Orange(men) program saw them lose just 4 games all year and reach the Sweet 16. Alas, one of those losses came in a neutral site contest against the Mountaineers. While SU did have Louis Orr as a freshman, that team was led by Jim Williams and Dale Shakelford who were not enough to counter WVU’s Tony Robertson and Maurice Robinson. The Mountaineers third leading scorer? Some guy named Bob Huggins. Wonder if that is worth remembering.

2008 Morgantown, WV: WVU 81, Syracuse 61

The last time the Mountaineers defeated the Orange, they made it count. The 20 point drubbing came even as Arinze Onuaku put up 15 points and 10 rebounds, due in large part to a 13-2 run by WVU to close out the first half. Darris Nichols was the Orange killer on the day, but the headline: Bob Huggins’ return to his alma matter after a stint at Cincinnati was off to great start.

2009 Big East Tournament: Syracuse 74, WVU 69 (OT)

When you bring up the 2009 Big East Tournament, the first game mentioned is the 6 Overtime thriller ‘Cuse won against the UConn Huskies. What ‘Cuse fans will remember after that one is the game that took place the very next day when the Orange went to overtime against the Moutaineers in the semifinal matchup. Eric Devendorf led the way with 23 points, and marathon man Jonny Flynn threw up an additional 15 points along with 9 assists to power the Orange.

2010 Morgantown, WV: #5 Syracuse 72, #9 WVU 71

For the first time in 40 years that West Virginia had hosted a game between two top 10 programs, and they got the team that knocked them out of the Big East Tourney the year before in the Orange. In what is probably the rivalry’s highlight game, Darryl Bryant netted 18 for the Moutaineers with Da’Sean Butler playing all 40 minutes and dropping 13 points and 5 assists but it wasn’t enough to overcome ‘Cuse. The Orange’s leading scoring was a freshman from Jamesville-Dewitt named Brandon Triche, who dropped 16 points in 29 minutes, 11 coming in the second half. WVU had a chance to win after Kris Joseph missed both free throws at the end of the game, but were unable to get off a shot before the buzzer.

Thanks to my friend Chari, the rivalry page and OrangeHoops for helping me find some of these gems ahead of Sunday’s Round of 32 matchup.