Sagging ACC Needs Duke vs. Syracuse to Live Up to Its Billing

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Sagging ACC Needs Duke vs. Syracuse to Live Up to Its Billing
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Students have been camping outside the Carrier Dome for nearly two weeks, sometimes in single-digit temperatures. ESPN’s College GameDay trucks are en route, and Vanessa Williams is being flown in to croon the national anthem.

She’ll have a big audience, as 35,446 fans—a Syracuse record—are expected to be in attendance for Saturday’s game against Duke. The meeting will be the first between the two schools as members of the ACC.

“We welcome all the attention,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters Wednesday. “Hopefully the game will measure up to the buildup.”

Indeed.

Entertaining as Saturday’s showdown could be for fans of college basketball, strong performances from the Orange and Blue Devils are vital to the ACC.

Especially this year.

As soon as it was announced that Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and (eventually) Louisville would join the league, pundits began hailing the ACC as a super-conference, a juggernaut that would have no rival in college basketball. More than halfway through its inaugural season, however, the new ACC has been a massive disappointment, ranking behind the Big Ten and the Big 12 and not too far ahead of the Pac-12 and AAC.

North Carolina is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, Maryland is at a stalemate under Mark Turgeon, Pittsburgh has a gaudy record but zero quality wins and Florida State, as usual, is maddeningly inconsistent.

Unless you count surging-but-unranked Virginia, the ACC has only been able to depend on two schools to carry the conference torch this season, and they’ll face off Saturday in the Carrier Dome.

Second-ranked Syracuse is 20-0 and 7-0 in the ACC while No. 17 Duke is 17-4 and 6-2.

“This was the most anticipated game on our schedule ever since the day (Syracuse) declared to be in the ACC,” Duke’s Jabari Parker said at a press conference Wednesday.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins agreed.

“As soon as I found out they were coming (to the ACC),” Dawkins said, “I knew there was going to be a lot of hype going into this game.”

The Orange and Blue Devils better get used to it.

Although it could lose leading scorers Parker and Rodney Hood to the NBA draft, Duke signed what is easily the nation’s top recruiting class and will also return standouts such as Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon.

Syracuse will take a major hit if underclassmen Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant turn pro, but Jim Boeheim’s squad rarely experiences major slippage. The Orange have been to nine of the last 11 NCAA tournaments and finished third or better in their old conference (the Big East) three of the past four years. Last year they placed fifth but reached the Final Four.

North Carolina will improve eventually and Virginia is on an upswing. Louisville will be salty again next season and Pittsburgh is always competitive. Still, for the next few years, it appears the onus will fall on Duke and Syracuse to keep the ACC’s national reputation strong while its other schools play catch up.

Having Duke and Syracuse as your most visible programs certainly isn’t a bad thing. Krzyzewski and Boeheim are both in the Hall of Fame and are good friends, with Boeheim having served as an assistant on Krzyzewski’s USA Basketball staff.

Their relationship is among the many storylines that will likely be discussed ad nauseam leading up to Saturday night’s game.

“It’s a competitive field,” Boeheim said on Monday’s ACC conference call. “You’re not going to have many friends in coaching because you’re trying to beat each other’s brains in, for the most part. But he’s a really good friend.”

Krzyzewski (974) and Boeheim (940) are 1-2 on the list for career wins by active coaches.

“We’ve been good and (Syracuse has) been really good,” Krzyzewski said. “So a lot of people want to see what happens when two really good programs get together—and when two guys who have been coaching a long time get together.

“It will be a historic game.”

For Duke.

For Syracuse.

And, most importantly, for the ACC.

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