Adam Gold

The Spectacle at Syracuse

Posted February 5, 2014

The two winningest head coached in Division I men's basketball history, Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski, will meet Saturday.

If there's a better game on the college hoops horizon than we saw Saturday night at the Carrier Dome, then here's my credit card because I want a front-row ticket. For the first time ever Duke visited Syracuse in an ACC game and the hype didn't even come close to the show.  It was, as former Duke All-American and current ESPN analyst Jay Williams told me, "a spectacle".  The two winningest coaches in college basketball brought two of the best ten teams in the nation to the court and laid out two and a half hours of solid, high-level, shot-making basketball. In the end, Syracuse was the better team and continued their unbeaten season with a narrow, overtime victory. But, the real winner just might have been the Atlantic Coast Conference because for the first time in more than a decade, the conference has a headline act other than Duke vs North Carolina.

One of the most remarkable things about SEC football in the fall is the almost relentless schedule of appointment games. Seemingly every week there's at least one match up that grabs you, many times regardless of the records of the participants. Alabama vs LSU, Florida vs Georgia and Alabama vs Auburn are classic rivalries no matter the state of the teams. But, throw in the likes of Texas A&M and South Carolina and now we're stretching out the inventory of high-profile, "big event" games.

That was what we saw Saturday night in central New York state. Duke and Syracuse was a happening. Yes, it was the beginning of a conference rivalry that will be among the very best in the nation over the years and decades to come. But, there are a lot of conference rivalries that warrant your attention. Michigan-Michigan State is a great Big Ten rivalry. Kentucky's annual series with Florida is attention-grabbing. Kansas and Texas have also played some super games over the years and have grown into the best the Big XII has to offer annually. The difference between those couplings and that of the Orange and Blue Devils is that the latter has more of a national appeal.

For instance, Saturday night's game was the third highest-rated college basketball game ever on ESPN as almost 5 million people were tuned in. The game also set a WatchESPN record with more than 125,000 unique visitors generating over 5.6 million minutes of on-line viewing. Of the other top five ESPN college basketball games in network history, three of them are Duke-Carolina games with the 5th being the 1 vs 2 match up of Memphis and Tennessee in 2008. In general, college basketball falls way short of football in terms of television ratings and overall viewership. But, events like we saw Saturday night move the needle, drive interest in the sport and are -- to use an old NBC phrase -- "must see TV".

Starting next season, the Atlantic Coast Conference will have five of the top dozen winningest programs in the history of college hoops. No other conference has two. North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville give the ACC five national college hoops brands. No other league has more than one. And, if John Swofford plays it as he should, the Atlantic Coast Conference will deliver the best television package in the history of the sport. The annual Duke-Carolina series -- upon which ESPN2 was launched -- is still a national fascination today even as the sport has spread interest from coast to coast. Those two meetings are essentially the highest-rated college basketball games every year for ESPN, but think of the possibilities when you add in those three new league members.

Syracuse sold more than 35,000 tickets for Duke's first visit to the Carrier Dome as a conference foe -- the most ever for an on-campus facility.   And, the game exceeded the hype. Iowa State's triple overtime win at Oklahoma State was a great watch, but with a two-thirds full Gallagher-Iba Arena there was something a bit lacking in terms of atmosphere. The Blue Devils and Orange rocked the dome to the foundation, gave us a thrilling 45 minutes of high level ball and still left us wanting more. When Louisville arrives in the fall of 2014 the possibilities are endless.

What would ESPN do with a true round robin from those five teams? Add to that, Virginia, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State, providing those programs are trending upward, or ranked, and suddenly the ACC's slate of basketball games has a big event feel every single week of the year. While the money is in football, ESPN and their rival networks need programming from January through March and college hoops can easily fill that void.

College basketball allows for unbalanced scheduling. The sport, and the teams, don't really suffer if one team's schedule is a bit more challenging than another's.  That happens naturally anyway in the non-conference portion of the season.  Sure, we might see that difficulty impact the league standings and, in turn, alter seeding for the conference tournaments, but those are small prices to pay to grab the attention of fans from the end of the NFL's regular season until baseball's opening day in April (or late March, as is the case today).

So Mr. Swofford, in the future, please give us more Duke-Syracuse and UNC-Louisville match ups. Why not even create a Super Bowl Saturday double header of iconic college basketball with those four schools -- all currently led by Hall of Fame coaches -- as we eagerly await kickoff. The sport has a lot of great games, but sadly, few great events. This year's Champions Classic was a spectacle of four great programs as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State thrilled us for more than five hours in Chicago. Imagine a scenario where one conference can do for basketball what the SEC has done for college football.

Duke's visit to Syracuse, along with the future arrival of Louisville, has given the Atlantic Coast Conference the opportunity to do just that. So long as John Swofford makes it happen.

19 Comments

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  • lewiskr45 Feb 6, 4:50 p.m.

    I'm a State fan who does NOT want to see more of the Duke and UNC matchups against Syracuse and... View More

    — Posted by cjw6105

    I think you're over estimating the value of State. There are only a few schools that are valuable to the ACC for their teams as opposed to TV markets, think big names in basketball and football. State is middle of the pack (pun intended) in both of those sports, so the ACC is going to favor Carolina, Duke, Cuse, FSU, Clemson, VT, ND; the real money makers. Not many people outside of their respective fan bases are going to tune into a State-Miami football game or Wake-BC basketball game. The nation will watch Clemson-FSU in football or Duke-Cuse in basketball.

  • PanthersFan45 Feb 6, 10:20 a.m.

    Having grown up near the Syracuse area and attending college in Upstate NY back in the 80's (before moving to NC in the 80's) I can tell you Syracuse basketball has had a big following for as long as Boeheim has been there. He and Coach K have been friends for years and just last summer Coach K mentioned how he hated playing Syracuse because he's playing against a guy he's great friends with. Both coaches looked pretty fired up though when the game started. Both coaches also put a strong emphasis on "D" too. SU with the zone, and Duke with their man-to-man. Both teams had some great offense in that 1st meeting, the rematch should be a good one in Cameron.

  • dave437 Feb 6, 10:09 a.m.

    "North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville give the ACC five national college hoops brands. No other league has more than one."

    Michigan State....Indiana.....(possiblye even Ohio State)?

  • BlueDeviIs00 Feb 6, 8:55 a.m.

    Love the addition of Syracuse, ND, Pitt and Louisville. Yes, some of the age-old rivalries will take a hit, but if the new rivalries give us games like Saturday -- I'm fine with it.

    Syracuse fans, congrats on the win. Please do not act like you're taking over the conference. You will lose in Cameron for sure, and probably should've lost the first meeting with Duke but I won't go there. Duke is outstanding every single year and has the #1 recruiting class coming in next year. So pipe down, congrats on the win, enjoy it, because I think you'll end up losing twice to Duke this season (Cameron, ACC Tournament). But i'm glad you're in the conference, because UNC is lousy and we needed a new rival :)

  • Toddler10-21 Feb 6, 8:24 a.m.

    Big East was the best conference. Now the big east is trying to make the acc the best conference.

  • roberttherugguy Feb 6, 8:03 a.m.

    Add to that, UConn!

    — Posted by roberttherugguy

    Lol. UConn isn't coming.

    — Posted by CombatMed

    Your right cosidering Warde Manuels' alma mater, he has them pointed to the Big Ten, and if expansion is being driven by football then one need only look at the new head football coach at UConn.

  • jmcdow2792 Feb 6, 5:47 a.m.

    I'm a State fan who does NOT want to see more of the Duke and UNC matchups against Syracuse and... View More

    — Posted by cjw6105

    You make some good points, but don't forget that things change over time. Will Duke continue without K? A lot of these programs have been up and down over the years. What you describe may get better, or it may get worse.

  • jhilfiker2001 Feb 5, 11:43 p.m.

    Wow, so many bitter people out there. Are you guys mad because Syracuse came in and took over the league? Came in and took over when all you fools said it would never happen. Reality sucks.

  • cjw6105 Feb 5, 9:45 p.m.

    I'm a State fan who does NOT want to see more of the Duke and UNC matchups against Syracuse and Louisville.

    These rivalries may be good for ESPN and to some degree the ACC, but it is killing off longstanding ACC rivalries, especially among the Big Four schools. It might help the Blues, but it's hurting the Wolfpack and Wake Forest, who already have been shafted in this season's schedule (State got no home games with Duke or Syracuse, and Wake was left out of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge).

    State and Wake football fans have already seen their games vs Duke and UNC reduced to once every decade instead of once every season. ACC expansion has also denied State having a football rivalry with Virginia Tech and Miami, plus has dumped them in a division that is way overbalanced.

    Now, basketball appears headed in that direction, with the blessing of Gold and other media types who think that casting aside some members of the ACC in order to showcase others is the thing to do. I don't agree.

  • maddog69 Feb 5, 9:26 p.m.

    This the end of the greatest league...Acc is gone..Syracuse has no biz in the ACC...Liberalism... View More

    — Posted by gibbman67

    Wow! Just Wow!

    — Posted by 6Pack

    Stupidest thing I've seen on any of these posts. If you can't see the value that Cuse brings than you shouldn't even be on here.

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