Orange Watch: Syracuse basketball is back featuring unique, dual-coach season

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For only the fourth time in 40 seasons Jim Boeheim will not be in his customary spot on the sidelines when SU begins ACC play Dec. 30 at Pitt

Item: One way or another, and after only one tune-up ending in a 39 point rout of Le Moyne Monday night in which SU previewed that it will be “raining threes” from the perimeter this season, with a mandatory NCAA suspension built into the first half of the ACC schedule, we’ll get our initial 30 day look at the future head coaching transition of Jim Boeheim to Mike Hopkins, with Coach Boeheim’s total ban from associating with any nuance of the program, creating a nine game (subject to an imminent appeal ruling) mini-season within the entire season.

Sure, there have been previous Syracuse basketball games in which its Hall of Fame coach has been absent from performing his game theatrics of repeatedly standing up and sitting down, while also pacing endlessly back and forth in front of the bench in his now 40 year tenure running the program, but they’ve been few and far between.

There was Boeheim’s three game absence in Dec. 2001 following surgery related to treating an enlarged prostate which resulted in the Orangemen going 1-2 under Bernie Fine; the final 28.9 of the first half and the entire second of the Nov. 2005 Dome exhibition game victory over Div. II College of Saint Rose in which Fine also directed the team following Boeheim’s departure; and the infamous final 10.2 of the Duke loss in SU’s initial appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Feb. 2014, in which Hopkins finished out the game after his boss almost ripped his jacket right off while storming the court to argue an offensive foul on C.J. Fair (2011-14).

» Related: Syracuse displays new look offense in exhibition win

Other than those four regular season instances, there’s been 1,299 Orange games under Boeheim’s direction in which he’s been running the show, but that complexion changes dramatically the evening of Dec. 30 when the ‘Cuse not only opens up ACC play at Pittsburgh’s tough-to-win pit Petersen Events Center (SU has won two of nine games there since the building opened in 2002), but it suddenly becomes Hopkins, with the added assistance of Adrian Autry and Gerry McNamara, who becomes the game tactician without the added benefit of Boeheim’s consultation that he and Fine had back in 2001’s trio of games versus Hofstra, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech, ironically two of those three teams being current ACC opponents.

At the annual ACC basketball pre-season media day in Charlotte last week, Boeheim made clear that it’s still his program until he decides to retire, even with Hopkins navigating the first half of the upcoming league schedule, and he’s taken the exact same approach to his season preparations as he has in any other year.

“What I think about (at the beginning of practice) is how am I going to get this team to be the best team that they can be,” Boeheim said after being asked about his future. “Every year I’ve approached coaching the same way. I don’t set goals of wins or tournaments, or winning this and that. Try to get this team ready to play, and be the best team they can be. And, I don’t know what that is with this team (yet). We (still) have a lot of question marks.”

Unless some of those question marks are answered during one of the toughest non-conference portions of any schedule (since the Big East was formed) in Boeheim’s entire 40 year run, it will provide an interesting scenario as to the mark Hopkins makes during his month-long reign versus opponents including North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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