On September 18, 2011, Syracuse University announced it would be moving its athletic programs from the Big East — a conference that it helped establish in 1979 — to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It was a money move that was driven by football. College sports is a business and football is king — even at Syracuse, despite being bowl eligible just four times in its 11 ACC seasons. I will preface any football comments by saying I do not follow the football program as much as I used to. I’m a former season-ticket holder during the Doug Marrone and Scott Shafer years — not great.
Anyways, this isn’t about football. I’ll leave that to those who follow the program more closely. This is about the men’s basketball program and how it’s fared since leaving the Big East.
I, like most, didn’t want to leave the Big East. I loved the tradition, the rivalries, the intensity and the electric Big East Tournaments at Madison Square Garden. It’s hard to forget where the program was when it left the greatest conference ever created to where it is today.
In the last four seasons of the Big East, Syracuse had three 30-win seasons and a Final Four appearance. In those same seasons from 2009-2013, SU’s highest AP ranking was No. 1, No. 3, No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. Syracuse found the top spot in the polls during its inaugural year in the ACC as well.
Entering the 2023-24 season, the Orange started the year unranked for the fifth consecutive season. It’s the first time this has happened since the 1971-72 season.
Since joining the ACC, Syracuse is 210-136 and 99-88 in league play. That’s 10 full seasons (minus the Covid stuff), plus three games this season. That includes five NCAA Tournament bids and one Final Four appearance.
In its final 10 seasons in the Big East, the Orange went 267-88 and 114-58 in league play. SU made the NCAA Tournament eight times and went to one Final Four.
So the last 10 seasons in the Big East were better than the first 10 in the ACC. That’s not surprising. However, breaking down the conference over the last 10 years (and the early start to this year’s league play) may come to a surprise for some:
Syracuse ranks fifth in the last 10+ seasons in both wins and winning percentage. The Orange started off its first ACC campaign with a bit of an outlier, going 14-4. In the nine seasons since, SU hasn’t surpassed 10 regular-season wins.
As far as the ACC Tournament goes, Syracuse is 5-8 in nine showings and hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals. The 2019-20 rendition was cut short due to Covid after the Orange blitzed UNC, 81-53, in a second-round matchup. Syracuse missed the 2014-15 event due to a self-imposed postseason ban.
So what’s changed?
From a recruiting standpoint, Syracuse still focuses on the places it did during its time in the Big East: New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the DMV. Obviously, the staff doesn’t limit themselves, but a majority of SU’s contributing roster resides from these four areas.
There has been a dip in recruiting since the 2017 departure of longtime assistant Mike Hopkins, who is in his seventh season as the head coach at the University of Washington. In 2013, Hopkins was voted the second most-feared recruiter in the nation, according to a survey of 200 coaches by Jeff Goodman.
From 2010-17, Hopkins constructed three top 10 classes and five top 20 classes, according to 247Sports. Since 2017, Syracuse hasn’t signed a top 20 class.
These are strictly high school rankings and does not include transfers.
In 2023, SU’s class ranked No. 59. But Adrian Autry also added transfers JJ Starling, Chance Westry, Kyle Cuffe and Naheem McLeod — so the rankings don’t tell the whole story.
Other notable transfers over the years: Alan Griffin, Andrew White, Jimmy Boeheim, Symir Torrence, Cole Swider, Michael Gbinije, John Gillon and Elijah Hughes.
The transfer portal changed the game, but that doesn’t change SU’s dip in recruiting. From 2018 on, the classes nationally rank: 44, 32, 41, 81, 22, 59 and 31.
The importance of high school recruiting will continue to dwindle as programs will have the opportunity to grab college-ready, established players in the transfer portal — such as Autry did this offseason. A mix of young and veteran players is important to build and maintain a program, but the portal has — and should — become the priority.
Hopkins helped sign the likes of Brandon Triche, Fab Melo, CJ Fair, Baye Moussa Keita, Michael Carter-Williams, Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson, Dajuan Coleman, Tyler Lydon and Tyus Battle, among others.
Pretty, pretty good.
Like any program, there were some misses on the trail, too: Anthony Davis, Thomas Bryant, Quade Green and Isaiah Stewart come to mind right away. But, man, there were some great talents that came through Syracuse in the early 2010s.
Back to the ACC — there’s been plenty of ups and downs: two unexpected deep NCAA tournament runs, a self-imposed postseason ban, a Boeheim ejection for the ages, a Tyler Ennis buzzer-beater at Pittsburgh and a new head coach for the first time in 47 years.
In his first season at the helm, Adrian Autry has modernized the program by playing more man-to-man defense, running an up-tempo style of play and utilizing the portal. He’s off to a 10-4 start, 7-0 at the Dome. And his first high school recruiting class is no slouch, either — signing four-star guard Elijah Moore and four-star forward Donnie Freeman.
It’ll be a while before we can make accurate assessments of Autry as a head coach. He deserves time to establish himself. Overall, I think he’s off to a terrific start. And as he continues to grow in the role, we can only hope the program flourishes again one day like it did pre-ACC.
How would you grade the last decade?