Men's Basketball

Wilson: Syracuse stands alone in ACC as traditional powers falter

Ryan MacCammon | Staff Photographer

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim laughs with North Carolina head coach Roy Williams before SU's 57-45 win on Saturday.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is, at its heart, a southern league — the Triangle in North Carolina its hoops haven. It’s added a bit of a northern flair in recent years, but the conference tournament rarely strays from its home in Greensboro, N.C.

After Syracuse’s dominant performance against North Carolina on Saturday — one of the conference’s blue bloods — maybe it’s time for the league to change its thinking.

Barring some sort of collapse or major dark horse arising, it’s tough to envision SU as anything but the dominant force in the ACC. C.J. Fair doesn’t see Syracuse losing many games, if any at all.

“You’d have to have a total package, really,” the Orange’s star forward said. “And we’d have to have an off-night.”

Seems easy enough. There’s only one problem.

“I don’t really see us having a bad game because we have so many weapons.”

On Saturday, Clemson stunned No. 16 Duke. Virginia made short work of North Carolina State. And Pittsburgh stomped Wake Forest.

The star of the day was No. 2 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 ACC), which manhandled North Carolina (10-6, 0-3) for a resounding 57-45 victory in the Carrier Dome. All three Triangle schools fell on the same day for the first time since March 8, 1996. And with the Demon Deacons included, even The Post-Standard’s college basketball research machine Patrick Stevens couldn’t find the date when all four lost, but it’s not since at least 1945.

In a wildly disappointing ACC, Syracuse is a powerhouse capable of embarrassing even the league’s premier schools. The Dome, which packed in 32,121 for the UNC beatdown, is the conference’s basketball oasis in — of all places — snowy Central New York.

“It was definitely our biggest ACC game so far,” said SU forward Jerami Grant. “Playing against a team like this in the Carrier Dome was definitely good for us.”

Welcome to the new ACC, Tar Heels, where the temperatures are a bit colder and you won’t be battling with just the Blue Devils for conference supremacy anymore.

North Carolina won’t be ranked for the second straight week. Duke could fall out of the Top 25 on Monday, which would likely leave newcomers Syracuse and Pitt as the conference’s only ranked teams. Feels an awful lot like the Big East, doesn’t it?

If it weren’t for these two, the ACC would be an even bigger embarrassment than it already is.

Earlier in the season, SU head coach Jim Boeheim said that thinking the Orange could get through the regular season with two losses was “the height of foolishness.” At this point, any more than that would be a surprise.

After Syracuse’s win on Saturday, Boeheim said that any of the top 15 or so teams could win the national title.

“That’s college basketball,” he said.

Syracuse is certainly one of those teams, but the ACC may not have another. It’s tough to count out the Mike Krzyzewski-coached, Jabari Parker-led Blue Devils, but by Boeheim’s logic, they have some work to do to become a legitimate threat.

That doesn’t mean the Orange will cruise to an 18-0 debut season in the conference or sweep the traditional powers handily, but it means that anything less than a regular-season title in its inaugural ACC season would be a failure. It’s Elite Eight or bust for SU, and an even better run should probably be expected.

Syracuse has started 16-0 in three of the last four years. Fair, who has been a part of all of them, said this one might be the best.

“The level of competition we’ve played this year is better than previous years,” Fair said. “We’ve been well-tested and we’ve responded well.”

The Orange is red hot and the clear-cut class of its new conference. The road to a championship in the south’s best basketball conference goes through frigid Central New York, and Fair knows it.

“I think this is going to be a special year.”

David Wilson is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at dbwilson@syr.edu or on Twitter at @DBWilson2.

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