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Syracuse men’s basketball: which home game can replace the “Duke Campout” this season?

One choice seems obvious this season.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

When the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team had its full ACC schedule revealed for the 2023-2024 season, Syracuse fans quickly pointed out the obvious omission — no home game versus the Duke Blue Devils.

Despite the Orange’s recent skid versus the Blue Devils, the “Duke Campout” hosted by Otto’s Army is a staple event among the Syracuse student population — even with Syracuse having lost eight straight versus Duke and with a conversation emerging on the present state of the rivalry. For context, Otto’s Army typically allows students to set up tents in or near the JMA Wireless Dome for up to 48 hours to campout before tip-off against Duke.

Fortunately for Syracuse fans — especially the students — Otto’s Army President Greg Slodysko confirmed Friday that it would still host a campout at some point during the Orange’s upcoming season.

But the pressing question remains: what home game will take the place of Duke this time around?

Let’s break down some of the top options Otto’s Army can choose from:

January 20: Miami

Otto’s Army faces two challenges to picking any candidate to replace Duke for the campout: finding a) the right time to host the two-day event and b) the right opponent to draw enough students to show up at the Dome.

Recent history shows that the Duke campout usually took place on a Saturday (logistically, it makes sense: you can only draw in so many students in the middle of a school week). Because of that, we’re prioritizing Saturday games to start off our list of candidates.

That begins with the Miami Hurricanes, who under coach Jim Larrañaga led the program to its first Final Four appearance last season and its second straight Elite Eight berth.

Miami ended at #16 in the final AP poll from last season and joins Duke and North Carolina as the only three ACC teams to be listed in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25. From both talent and preseason standing alone, the Miami game seems like a leading candidate for the campout.

Syracuse is also 3-4 in its last seven games versus Miami, and a home game would market as a appealing “toss-up” between both programs.

The biggest challenge for Otto’s Army, however, remains scheduling — the Miami game takes place five days after the start of Syracuse University’s spring semester. The turnaround time from January 16 to January 20 is pressing; on the flip side, students that week wouldn’t have much work to do since it’s the first week of the semester.

February 10: Clemson

Saturday game? Check. An easier game to plan a campout for from a logistical standpoint? Without a doubl. A back and forth battle between both programs. Absolutely — Syracuse is 3-4 versus the Tigers since 2019.

But the biggest draw would easily be Joe Girard’s first game back in the Dome, this time in a Clemson uniform. Girard played four seasons and 125 games with the Orange before opting to transfer to the Tigers over the offseason. He left behind a productive but complicated legacy with mixed emotions from the broader Syracuse fanbase.

From narrative alone, there’s a lot of upside with marketing this game for a campout. The challenge would be figuring out how good Clemson is — the Tigers landed the 17th-best transfer portal class this offseason after ending last season with a 23-11 record and the third-best conference record in the ACC.

If the Tigers prove to be as good as they were last season, there’s a chance this game could be the one to hold the campout.

February 13: North Carolina

The case for UNC: swapping out one blue blood for another makes a lot of sense and Syracuse has played the Tar Heels close enough in recent seasons (the Orange are 2-3 in their last five games versus the Tar Heels; the three losses were by an average of around six points per game).

The case against UNC is three-fold: the game would be on a Tuesday and there’s still some reservations on how good the Tar Heels will actually be following last season’s disastrous campaign. My other argument was previously mentioned when Mike and I did the “should the Duke rivalry be replaced?” story:

“My one pushback would be this - doesn’t UNC see Duke as their true rival the same way Duke sees UNC? The “retirement tour” they gave Coach K is exhibit A of that. It’ll be hard for Syracuse to break the status quo unless the program can buck its recent seasons of being middle-of-the-pack.”

February 7: Louisville and February 24: Notre Dame

Both the Cardinals and Fighting Irish struggled mightily last season and each have new-ish coaches looking to turnaround each of those programs. There’s a case to be made if either one of those teams can breakout, but that’s also assuming a one year turnaround from bottom of the barrel to relevant in the ACC from one of these programs.

Now it’s your turn: which of Syracuse’s home games this year deserves the honor of being the marquee game of the season?