The first time Syracuse played Duke as a member of the ACC, it was billed as the game of the season. A then record-breaking crowd of over 35,000 packed into the Dome to watch 2nd ranked SU take on 17th ranked Duke.
In case you don’t remember, the game featured a buzzer-beating three to force overtime and a blocked dunk to secure an Orange victory. If possible, it actually surpassed the hype.
One of the biggest takeaways from that game was the record-setting crowd. However, maybe even more impressive was the fan support in Central New York for that 2013-14 season as a whole. The smallest crowd in the Dome that season was 19,473 against High Point University during SU’s winter break.
Skip ahead to this season, 19,473 would be the third largest crowd of the year (entering tonight’s game). Why are fans not coming in? What happened? According to ESPN’s Dick Vitale, back when that 2014 game was played, the Orange and Blue Devils were looked at as the absolute best in the ACC.
“Syracuse and Duke, I mean it’s going to be special. John Swofford’s got to be the winner right here – the ACC. They’ve got to be on cloud nine because there will be no doubt next year and beyond, the ACC will be the talk – the crème de la crème.”
Duke has stuck to that. In the past nine years, the Blue Devils have been to four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and won a national championship.
Meanwhile, since Syracuse joined the ACC, it has only finished fifth or better in the conference one time. Duke also averages seven more wins per season than SU in that timespan. With another season trending towards missing the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse.com’s Brent Axe explains the standard within the program hasn’t changed, but the results are beginning to.
“They could win the NIT, don’t care. Are you buying an NIT championship shirt?” Axe said. “The standard is the [NCAA] Tournament. If you don’t make the Tournament, the season is a failure. And that’s not just my standard, that’s Jim Boeheim talking. We don’t make the Tournament, the season’s a failure.”
In an interview earlier this season, Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack addressed the reality of a struggling SU men’s basketball team.
“We all expect better,” Wildhack said. “We’ve not experienced things like this, right? We’ve lived a charmed life when it comes to men’s basketball. We’ve got to figure out a way to turn it around.”
With both wins and attendance declining, tonight’s game serves as a good opportunity to examine the state of the SU men’s basketball program. As you’re taking in SU-Duke on our airwaves, TV, or in-person, ask yourself this: ‘does it feel like the game of the season?’ It certainly did several years ago.