West Virginia and Syracuse were fierce rivals on the football field, meeting annually from 1945-2012 until conference realignment destroyed the Big East Conference, with West Virginia heading to the Big 12 Conference and Syracuse going to the ACC.
However, the two basketball programs have a streaky history and were competitive till the Mountaineers moved from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the Big East prior to the 1995-1996 season.
Sunday will mark the 51st meeting between the two programs and will be the first time the two hook up in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is in his 45 at the helm and has played a major role in the success the Orange have had over the Mountaineers, having been involved in all but 10 games in the series.
Boeheim is 27-13 all-time versus West Virginia. He was 1-2 as a player before coming up through the ranks as an assistant coach and went 4-5 and is 22-6 as a head coach.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has not nearly had the opportunities to knock off the Orange. As a guard for the Mountaineers, Huggins went 3-1 versus Syracuse, including obliging Boeheim with his first career loss in just his second game into his Hall of Fame career, and Huggins doesn’t let him forget about it every time he runs into him. “I bring it up - he doesn’t want to talk about it,” said Huggins. “That was a big comeback for us - we were down and made a big run at the end.”
“He was a good player - they had a good team,” said Boeheim, later adding, “Good shooter, physical player, smart player,” after quickly reminding everybody they got payback later in the season, and that was a good Syracuse team that went to the Sweet 16.
Once Huggins got into the coaching ranks, the two were never pinned against one another until Huggins returned to West Virginia prior to the 2007-08 season. He got the better of Boeheim in the first meeting, but Boeheim took the next games until the conference alignment sent WVU packing to the Big 12. Yet, the two continue to run into each other at coaches’ conferences or clinics, and they continue to rib each other.
“He kids me about being old, and I kid him about being big,” said Boeheim. Of course, it’s all in fun, and the two have great respect for each other. “He’s a great coach. He’s what basketball is all about – he loves basketball. He lives to coach, and he won’t quit coaching – ever,” said Boeheim.
Huggins captured career win No. 900 Friday night in the win over Morehead State, and with Boeheim sitting at 981, it will be just the second time in NCAA history that two opposing coaches will have 900+ career wins. The first came in 2018 when Boeheim and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski met in the Sweet 16.
West Virginia and Syracuse will tipoff Sunday at 5:15 pm EST and is broadcasting on CBS.
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