It’s been an offseason full of change for Syracuse Orange men’s basketball - easily the most in 47 years. It was bound to happen when the man who’s most associated with the program finally wrapped up a monumental coaching career.
Adrian Autry still has plenty of questions to answer in his first year as head coach, but there’s one more facing the program as a whole:
Who should we be most excited to see the Orange play annually?
Since ‘Cuse joined the ACC, that answer has officially been Duke - and for the first few years, that really was the case. But as the quality of play declined on one side, while the other remained a steadily ranked program, attendance figures and hype around the game have dropped.
Dom and I attended the game against Duke as fans, not reporters, last season and now we want to give our takes on the situation.
The Case for Consistency:
Mike: I’ll admit that there were some genuinely good moments throughout this series. Between the two games in SU’s inaugural ACC season, Gillon’s buzzer beater, and even the final battle between two coaching legends, it’s not hard to see why this rivalry used to work. Emphasis on used to.
Dom: The apex of the Orange versus Blue Devils rivalry does feel like long ago, especially since Syracuse has lost eight straight games and is just 1-10 versus Duke since 2018. The decline in competitiveness clearly showed in the attendance, especially last year, where the Dome’s electric atmosphere was absent by halftime and overall turnout cratered from its previous peak.
M: That’s just it: I never felt that it was “Syracuse vs. Duke”, but rather “Jim Boeheim vs. Coach K” - and Blue Devils fans seemed to think that way as well. SU was never seen as a major threat in Durham, even back during the better days. They only care about the Tar Heels and that’s never going to change, even if the Orange return to a permanent seat at the Top-25 table. If it wasn’t for two straight years of record student turnout, these games wouldn’t have even broke 30k anymore. It’s time for a change, full stop.
D: For argument's sake, if we’re banking on a program turnaround under Autry (and if the optimism can truly translate to a return to the Orange’s “glory days”), maybe we get a revival of some sort. There’s enough recent history to bring this rivalry back in some capacity if Autry modernizes the way this program builds up its foundation - especially given the recent success with recruitment/retention.
The Cases for Change:
D: Who says a new potential rival needs to be from a different state? Syracuse has played UNC a lot closer than it has Duke in recent years (SU is 2-3 in its last five games versus the Tar Heels, and the three losses were by an average of just over six points per contest). There’s a rich history considering Boeheim battled the likes of Dean Smith and Roy Williams for decades. If Hubert Davis can maintain success moving forward with UNC, we could get a rebirth of the animosity these two basketball-rich programs once shared.
M: Not only that, but there are plenty of parallels between the two schools. They both developed some of the greatest “brand” players ever in MJ and Melo, both have incredibly imposing home venues (even though there’s only one real Dome).., hell, both basically trademarked their own COLOR to the point where they’re nationally recognizable. If SU wants another top-tier rival, they can get a different angle here, since the coaches’ namesakes are no longer the driving force behind it.
D: 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.
M: This isn’t so much a “new” rivalry as it is a revitalization of an old one... but maybe that’s exactly what the Orange faithful need. I’m sure many still yearn for the legendary battles with Georgetown - but unless Big East football gets miraculously resurrected, they won’t be in the same conference anytime soon. This may be the next best bet - there have been nine 30k+ crowds at the Dome featuring Pitt as the visitor, and Red played some of his best games against the Panthers. Both programs bottomed out at the same time... so perhaps they can return to greatness alongside each other as well?
D: This has all the makings to again be a great rivalry: two Rust Belt-like cities, pages worth of history dating back to the Big East day and lots of competitive games. Keep in mind that Syracuse is 23-21 all-time versus the Panthers. While Pitt has won five of the last six matchups, the Orange previously notched seven straight victories. And of course, don’t forget Boeheim’s ill-fated comments accusing Pitt of “buying its team.” Mike, who wouldn’t want a return to a Big East-like battle between these two programs?
M: Honestly, Dom? More people than you might think. Sure, you and I agree this series could work again, but the reason it died out in the first place was a lack of legit competition among both programs (See: football). Winners want to beat other consistent winners, so that even in an occasional down year there’s something to look forward to. Pitt succeeded with transfers last year, but can they sustain it? And will SU’s mass retainment of young talent and the crazy concept of man defense help them get there too?
D: The Cavaliers are a sneaky favorite considering both schools have reputations of fanbases addicted to college hoops. We’re got two iconic, double-digit comeback wins for the Orange in marquee games (Syracuse’s 16-point rally in the 2016 Elite Eight and a 12-point comeback to notch Boeheim’s 1,000th*** win). The Orange’s past four losses have been by seven points or less, which isn’t the worst. All but four of Syracuse’s 19 all-time games versus Virginia have been in the ACC, so if the Orange are looking for a fresher rival, this could be a quality option.
M: I’m not really sold on this one. Yes, there have been some memorable games in recent years, but my whole reasoning for this piece was to find a long-term option for SU to love (to hate) playing against. The nostalgia associated with Pitt spans decades, whereas this is a drop in the bucket of the end of Jim’s coaching career. They’re great moments worth remembering for years to come, but I don’t see it as something worth expanding beyond that.
D: One thing to keep in mind is that Autry did spend some time in Virginia Tech for a few years as director of basketball ops (2008-2010) and as an assistant (2011), and don’t forget about his well-known recruitment ties to the D.C. and DMV areas, directly next to Virginia. There’s a decent possibility this could work out, but I’m not seeing it as the clear number-one option. If it’s true history we’re searching for, then there’s one more option we really should consider...
M: This is cheating a bit... or maybe we’re just ahead of the curve. The Big 12 is out on UConn, so if they do eventually move to a football conference, the ACC is their most-likely destination. The Orange are already playing the Huskies on the gridiron from 2024-2027, but there are far more tales to tap into from the hardwood. I mean, come on, these two teams only played the GREATEST BASKETBALL GAME OF ALL TIME!
D: Mike is all over this pick, and so am I. Syracuse leads the series 56–39 all-time dating back to 1956. There’s a treasure chest’s worth of Big East history, but factor in that despite the all-time series going Syracuse’s way, the Orange are only 6-4 in their last 10 games and 11-9 in their last 20 games versus the Huskies. Considering UConn’s recent success under Dan Hurley, maybe Autry versus Hurley could be the new Boeheim versus Coach K of the next decade and beyond. There’s a laundry list of reasons to bring this clash of the titans back.
M: More appealing than any other option is the true regional appeal this would also offer - something being rushed out of college sports lately. TNIAAM’s site editor Kevin had the idea of playing a football game in NYC on a November Saturday, followed by a clash at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Imagine that kind of reintroduction to this rivalry before the conference makes it official. But that’s just a theory... and we know those only take you so far.
Special thanks to OrangeRay who keeps a ton of Syracuse history preserved over at OrangeHoops.org. Highly recommend checking out his content if you want to know anything more about SU basketball.
And of course, we want to know what you think. Is it time to move on from Duke? If that series can’t be salvaged, which one of these alternatives is the best to you? Debate away!