Syracuse fielded its first varsity basketball team in 1900-01. The program rose to national prominence early in its history, being recognized by the Helms Athletic Foundation as national champions for 1918 (under Coach Edmund Dollard) and 1926. The program made National Invitation Tournament appearances in 1946 and 1950, won the 1951 National Campus Tournament, and made its first NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament appearance in 1957. Notable early era players included Hall of Famer Vic Hanson and racial pioneer Wilmeth Sidat-Singh.
The modern era of Syracuse basketball began with the arrival of future Hall of Famer Dave Bing. As a sophomore in 1964, Bing led the team to an NIT appearance and as a senior in 1966, he led the team to its second NCAA Tournament appearance, where it reached the regional final. Bing's backcourt partner on these teams was future Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse remained competitive after Bing's departure, with NIT appearances in 1967, 1971, and 1972. Under coach Roy Danforth, in 1973, the team began a string of consecutive NCAA appearances highlighted by a Final Four appearance in 1975. The 1975 squad featured guard Jim Lee and forward Rudy Hackett and was affectionately known as "Roy's Runts."
Following the 1976 season, Danforth was hired away by Tulane University and the University turned to young assistant Jim Boeheim to assume the helm. Boeheim extended the string of NCAA appearances to nine, with bids in each of his first four seasons, a period in which his teams won 100 games. These teams featured star forward Louis Orr and center Roosevelt Bouie and were sometimes referred to as the "Louie and Bouie Show."
Syracuse was a founding member of the Big East Conference in 1979, along with Georgetown University, St. John's University and Providence College. Syracuse and Georgetown were each ranked in the top ten in 1980, and a new and major rivalry blossomed when Georgetown snapped Syracuse's 57-game home winning streak in the final men's basketball game played at Manley Field House. Over the next ten seasons, these two schools met eight times in the Big East Tournament, four times in the finals, and met numerous times on national television during the regular season.
Syracuse won the Big East Tournament in 1981, but was passed over by the NCAA Tournament. The team, featuring Danny Schayes and Leo Rautins, finished runner-up in the NIT. The team returned to the NIT in 1982, before beginning another extended streak of NCAA appearances in 1983.
Buoyed by the visibility provided by the Big East and by rising attendances at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse continued to increase in national prominence regardless of their lack of both conference or national titles. Heralded high school phenomenon Dwayne "Pearl" Washington joined the team in 1983, and led the school to NCAA appearances in 1984, 1985, and 1986, before leaving school early for the NBA Draft.
Despite the early loss of Washington, Syracuse returned to the NCAAs in 1987, with a team featuring Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas and freshman Derrick Coleman, reaching the National Championship game before losing, 74–73, in the final to Indiana on a last-second jump shot by Keith Smart. Led by Coleman, Douglas, Seikaly, Stephen Thompson and Billy Owens, the school extended its string of NCAA appearances to 10 seasons before that string was broken in 1993, due to NCAA sanctions resulting from an incident involving a booster.
Led by guard Lawrence Moten and forward/center John Wallace, the school returned to the NCAAs in 1994 and 1995. In 1996, Wallace led the team to its third Final Four appearance, where it played impressively before losing, 76–67, in the final to a heavily favored Kentucky team that included nine future NBA players. (Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino had been an assistant coach to Boeheim in 1976, 1977.)
The 1997 squad won 19 games but was bypassed by the NCAA Tournament and appeared in the NIT. The 1998, 1999, and 2000 squads featuring guard Jason Hart and center Etan Thomas all earned NCAA bids. In 2000, the University also named its All-Century Team, recognizing its greatest players of the 20th century and the school's first 100 years of basketball. The team made a fourth consecutive NCAA appearance in 2001, but returned to the NIT in 2002, despite having a 20-win season. This marked the first time a school with 20 wins from the Big East Conference was denied a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Although unranked in the preseason polls for the 2002-03 season, led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara and sophomore Hakim Warrick, the Orangemen won their first NCAA Tournament Championship with an 81–78 defeat of the University of Kansas in the final. Anthony was named NCAA Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Anthony left for the NBA Draft after the school year, but McNamara and Warrick stayed on, leading the team to NCAA bids in 2004 and 2005. The latter season saw Syracuse introduce a new nickname, dropping "Orangemen" and "Orangewomen" in favor of "Orange".
In 2006, McNamara would lead the Orange to an extremely unexpected Big East Championship victory, making the 9th-seeded Orange the lowest seed to ever win the championship and only the 3rd school to repeat as Big East tournament champions, but was immediately defeated in the opening round of the 2006 NCAA tournament by Texas A&M, 66–58.
The 2007-08 season for the Orange was up and down. The Orange had a 50-point win over East Tennessee State on December 15, the largest margin of victory in 20 seasons. They recorded top-25 wins over Georgetown and Marquette. But the team lost to Villanova in the Big East Tournament opening round, and to UMass in the NIT. UMass became the first team ever to beat the Orange twice in the same season at the Carrier Dome.
In the 2008-09 season Syracuse was led by sophomore guard Jonny Flynn. The team returned key players like Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins, Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. Syracuse gained a tremendous amount of media attention following a 127–117 upset of UConn in six overtimes during the early morning hours of March 13, 2009 "the Game that wouldn't end" to advance to the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament. This game solidified their seeding in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. This game was the second longest of any game in NCAA History and only the 4th to make it into six overtimes. However, they lost in the Big East Final. Syracuse received a 3 seed and beat Stephen F. Austin 59–44 in the First Round. Syracuse stamped its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004, defeating 6th seed Arizona State 78–67. However, the season ended with a loss to No. 2 seed Oklahoma, as the Sooners ended the Orange's season with an 84–71 loss.
At the start of the 2009-10 season, having lost three key players (Devendorf, Flynn, Harris) from the previous season, the Orange was not considered a top contender, unranked in the preseason AP Poll. An early exhibition game loss to local LeMoyne College, a Division II school, did little to improve the outlook. However, led by its starters, returning seniors Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku, junior Rick Jackson, a relatively unknown transfer from Iowa State University, forward Wes Johnson, freshman point guard Brandon Triche, plus standout reserve players, sophomores Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, the team began to deliver, winning its first 13 regular season games. By the second week of rankings, the Orange had climbed into the top ten, staying in the top five continuously from week 9. Syracuse reached a number one ranking two weeks before the season ended, finishing the season in fourth place with its best-ever regular season win–loss performance, at 28-3. It finished on top of the Big East for the regular season, losing in the Big East Tournament's quarter finals. A 1-seed in the West Region of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Orange fell in the Sweet Sixteen to 5-seed and AP #11 Butler to end the season 30–5.
Senior Big East Defensive player of the Year Rick Jackson and Juniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine led the 2010-2011 Orange. Syracuse started strong by winning their first 18 contests before losing in Pittsburgh. That loss started a slide for the Orange, who lost six of their next eight games. The Orange regained their momentum by beating the West Virginia Mountaineers to start a six-game winning streak before losing in overtime to the Connecticut Huskies in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament. With a record of 28-7, the Orange garnered a #3 seed in the East Region of the NCAA tournament. The Orange easily handled Indiana State 77-60 in their first game. The Orange faced Marquette in the second round when one of the tournament's more controversial moments occurred. With the game tied at 59 with 51 seconds left, a backcourt violation was called on the Orange when Scoop Jardine retrieved Dion Waiters' inbound pass with one foot landing in the front court before his second settled in the backcourt. NCAA officiating coordinator John Adams admitted the call was made in error however; the officials were unaware of the full rule. According to the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Rulebook, Rule 4, Section 3, Article 8 states: "After a jump ball or during a throw-in, the player in his/her front court, who makes the initial touch on the ball while both feet are off the playing court, may be the first to secure control of the ball and land with one or both feet in the back court. It makes no difference if the first foot down was in the front court or back court." Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom hit a three-pointer on the ensuing possession with 27 second left to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good and a spot to the Sweet Sixteen. The loss culminated a season in which SU remained undefeated outside of their conference for the first time in the program's history.
2012-13 was the school's last season in the Big East Conference. Led by sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Junior forward C.J. Fair, the team made its fifth trip to the Final Four.
On July 1, 2013, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh joined the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
In its first season in the conference, Syracuse started 25-0 before losing six of its last nine games. The team featured two Second Team All Americans, point guard Tyler Ennis and forward C.J. Fair, and finished second in the ACC regular season standings.
As of the end of the 2013/2014 season, Syracuse has an active record of 44 consecutive winning seasons, with their last non-winning season being the 1969/1970 season when the team finished with 12 wins and 12 loses. In this time Syracuse has made 37 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 5 Final Four appearances and one NCAA Tournament Championship. The program has also made 12 NIT appearances and won 2 early (pre-tournament era) national championships. The program has produced 2 Hall of Fame players, Vic Hanson and Dave Bing, and one Hall of Fame coach, Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse home games in the early years were played at Archbold Gymnasium, an on-campus gym that is still used for various university activities. After a 1947 fire, most home games were played at Syracuse's state fairgrounds' Coliseum and other local venues. In 1962, home games moved to the newly constructed Manley Field House which finally gave the team a powerful home court advantage. The team became so fond of the space that its coaches objected to moving to the Carrier Dome when it was opened in 1980. But the team was moved anyway, because the Dome could not survive on a schedule of just 6 home football games a year. In its setup for basketball, the Dome can hold crowds of more than 30,000 for its biggest games, an advantage that has served to intimidate opposing teams for more than 30 years.
On February 1, 2014 Syracuse broke its own record for the largest on-campus crowd at a college basketball game against Duke University with a crowd of 35,466. The game was also the third most viewed regular season game in ESPN history, with 4.75 million viewers. The previous record attendance was set in February, 2013 in a game against long-time rival Georgetown University. The total ticket count for that game was 35,012.
The Orange have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 38 times. Their combined record is 65–38. They were National Champions in 2003.
*Following the introduction of the "First Four" round in 2011, the Round of 64 and Round of 32 were referred to as the Second Round and Third Round, respectively, from 2011 to 2015. Then from 2016 moving forward, the Round 64 and Round of 32 will be called the First and Second rounds, as they were prior to 2011.
The Orange have appeared in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) 13 times. Their combined record is 15–14.
The Orange appeared in the only National Campus Basketball Tournament where they were champions with a record of 3–0.
Syracuse University honors jersey/uniform numbers of its athletes, but the numbers are not officially "retired" and remain active. Historically, Syracuse University has restricted the men's basketball team from wearing such numbers, but there have also been exceptions to this custom. An example of the former is Carmelo Anthony, who wore #22 in high school, but since the number was already "retired" at Syracuse, Anthony chose #15 as an alternate upon his arrival. Similarly, Gerry McNamara wore #31 in high school, also "retired" by Syracuse University (McNamara chose #3 instead).Rony Seikaly - 4
Vic Hanson - 8
Carmelo Anthony - 15
Billy Gabor - 17
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh - 19
Sherman Douglas - 20
Dave Bing - 22
Billy Owens - 30
Dwyane Washington - 31
Derrick Coleman - 44
Roosevelt Bouie - 50
Louis Orr - 55
Carmelo Anthony, Forward for the New York Knicks
Arinze Onuaku, Center for the Orlando Magic
Michael Carter-Williams, Point Guard for the Chicago Bulls
Tyler Ennis, Point Guard for the Houston Rockets
Jerami Grant, Forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder
Wesley Johnson, Forward for the Los Angeles Clippers
Dion Waiters, Guard for the Miami Heat
Chris McCullough, Forward for the Washington Wizards
Malachi Richardson, Shooting Guard for the Sacramento Kings
C. J. Fair, Forward for Limoges CSP
Rakeem Christmas, Forward for Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Donté Greene, Forward for Leones de Santo Domingo
Paul Harris, Forward for Tropang TNT
Rick Jackson, Forward for Provence
Scoop Jardine, Guard for Moncton Miracles
Kris Joseph, Forward for the JDA Dijon Basket
Demetris Nichols, Forward for CSKA Moscow
Josh Pace, Guard for Nelson Giants
Andy Rautins, Guard for Pallacanestro Varese
James Southerland, Forward for the Limoges CSP
Brandon Triche, Guard for Delaware 87ers
Hakim Warrick, Forward for Liaoning Flying Leopards
Darryl Watkins, Center for ASVEL Basket
Michael Gbinije, Guard for Grand Rapids Drive
Trevor Cooney, Guard for SC Rasta Vechta