Mar 7, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT
An era comes to an end on Saturday afternoon, one that helped shape the the landscape of college basketball as we’ve come to know it over the last 34 years.
At noon on Saturday, No. 17 Syracuse will visit No. 5 Georgetown, the final time that the two times will play a regular season game as members of the same conference. Syracuse will be moving on to the ACC next season, while the Hoyas seem destined to remain a part of the Big East in name affiliation, as the Catholic 7 have reportedly paid to bring the name brand along with them as they form a new conference.
And it’s a shame.
This rivalry is as good as rivalries get. More than 35,000 showed up at the Carrier Dome to see them play for the last time in Syracuse. There won’t be an empty seat at the Verizon Center on Saturday.
But there is more to it than a simple dislike for a conference foe.
You see, the Big East was formed back in 1979. There weren’t 16 teams in the conference back then. There was no DePaul and there was no Cincinnati. Marquette and South Florida were still decades away from joining the league. The inaugural Big East had just seven teams; two of them were the Orange — the Orangemen back then — and the Hoyas.
That was 33 seasons ago, but astonishingly enough, the names of the coaches heading up those two programs haven’t changed. Jim Boeheim is still curmudgeoning his way through press conferences to this day, while John Thompson III has carried the Hoyas to a Final Four, a couple Big East titles and, this season, a top five seed while his dad — John Thompson Jr., the creator of Hoya Paranoia — watches on as an analyst-slash-cheerleader.
It was the elder Thompson that is more-or-less responsible for the rivalry being more than a simply conference feud.
First, a history lesson. At the same time that the Syracuse basketball team was joining the Big East conference, the school was trying to keep their football program at the Division 1-A level. The old Archbold Stadium was crumbling, so the school began construction on the Carrier Dome, a football stadium with a fiberglass, inflatable roof. With the project scheduled for completion in September of 1980 and the basketball program’s move into the Big East conference, it only made sense to play their basketball home games in the new facility, one that could hold many thousands more orange-clad fans than the 9,500-seat Manley Fieldhouse.
At the time, Manley was one of the most difficult places to play in the country. The Orange were riding a 57 game winning streak in Manley as they headed into the final men’s basketball game the building would host, a Feb. 12th, 1980, date with Thompson Jr.’s Hoyas. The plan, as you would imagine, was to send the building off with a farewell victory, but Georgetown had other ideas.
The Hoyas staged an epic comeback, rallying to beat the No. 2-ranked Orange 52-50. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Thompson Jr. grabbed the microphone after the game and infamously told the crowd “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
This angered Syracuse and the Orange faithful quite a bit, but hatred can only last a rivalry so long.
For a rivalry to survive in more than just proximity and conference affiliation — Rutgers and Seton Hall are must-see TV right? Dickie V’s on the call every time NC State plays Duke and North Carolina, isn’t he? — it needs three things: great teams, great players, and memorable moments.
Check, check, and check.
Georgetown made the national title game three times between 1982 and 1985, winning the 1984 title. Syracuse lost in the title game in 1987 and 1996. The Hoyas won 13 conference regular season and tournament titles between 1980 and Thompson Jr.’s retirement in 1999. Syracuse won nine in that span.
Great players came by the handful. Georgetown can claim Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith, Othella Harrington, and Allen Iverson as alums. Syracuse pumped out their own laundry list of stars — Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman, Lawrence Moten, Billy Owens.
There were plenty of memorable moments as well. After losing to Georgetown in the 1984 Big East Tournament Final in overtime, Jim Boeheim knocked over a chair and screamed “the best team did not win tonight.” On March 5th, 1990, in the Carrier Dome, the Orange beat Georgetown 89-87 in overtime, aided by a 10 point possession thanks to Thompson Jr. picking up a technical foul from three different referees. And that doesn’t come remotely close to highlighting the number of bare-knuckle brawls and buzzer-beating buckets these two programs have had over the years.
While the hatred between these two fanbases has never subsided, the national attention it garnered did in the early 2000′s (we’ll blame that on the Craig Escherick era). But this rivalry’s impact on the current landscape of college basketball cannot be overstated. The battles between Boeheim and Thompson Jr. are what the Big East was built on. They are a primary reason why the Big East is, and has been, the nation’s preeminent basketball conference.
Without it, the Big East would not have blossomed the way it did. The Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden wouldn’t have been the trip that every kid in my generation wanted to make. Big Monday wouldn’t have become must-see TV. The Catholic 7 wouldn’t be willing to spend millions upon millions upon millions to keep the league name, the league’s brand, and the league’s postseason locale.
Plenty of others played a role in that development — Rick Pitino took Providence to a Final Four in 1987, Lou Carnesecca built St. John’s into a powerhouse in the ’80s, Villanova won a national title in 1985, Jim Calhoun made UConn a top ten program in the ’90s — but Syracuse and Georgetown was as much a catalyst as any.
That’s what makes the end of the rivalry so painful for those that grew up on hoops in the Northeast.
It’s just another reminder that the Big East we’ve known and loved for so many years will come to an end this season.
And while realignment has ended so many rivalries in recent years, none have been as influential to the sport as Georgetown and Syracuse.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT
After averaging 12.5 points per game as a sophomore, San Francisco guard Avry Holmes has decided to transfer.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
Arizona State lands its seventh newcomer for the 2014-15 season as forward Willie Atwood picked the Sun Devils over Florida State and Iowa.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
The NCAA’s Board of Directors released some key decisions on Thursday.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie has decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Dan D’Antoni spent 30 years as a high school coach in South Carolina.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:23 PM EDT
Parker is not a fan of forcing players to stay in school for two years.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
There are reports he’s already signed with an agent.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
The seven-footer will miss some time getting a torn labrum repaired.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:56 AM EDT
Roy Williams is not the world’s greatest dancer.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Kentucky, Kansas and just about every elite program in the country is on the trail of the Haitian.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
It’s pretty funnyl
Apr 24, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT
According to multiple reports, former Georgetown big Moses Ayegba has decided to transfer to Nebraska.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT
According to a report, UConn center Amida Brimah will need to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Shaka Smart filled a vacancy on his staff Wednesday, hiring former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Less than a week after making an official visit to the school, it was reported that Malek Harris had committed to Kansas State. But that may not be the case.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Frank Haith announced his coaching staff Wednesday, with the trio combining to have more than 90 seasons of coaching experience.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
UConn and Duke will reportedly play each other just before Christmas in New Jersey.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
Former St. John’s commit Darrick Wood verbally committed to attend DePaul on Wednesday.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
After playing well in Kentucky’s run to the national title game, Dakari Johnson has decided to return for his sophomore season.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
LSU should have the pieces to be a tournament team in 2014-2015.
- Jabari Parker on a potential move to two-and-done: ‘I think that’s ridiculous’ 4
- John Calipari appears on ‘The Colbert Report’ (VIDEO) 1
- Auburn will not appeal Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty 3
- Kentucky freshman Julius Randle entering NBA Draft 0
- ACC’s league schedule highlights the flaws of massive power conferences 4
- Report: Tennessee hires Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall 1
- Rice transfer Sean Obi commits to Duke 1
- #UMassUnited: Thousands show to support Derrick Gordon during Westboro Baptist Church protest (18)
- Reports: Missouri’s Frank Haith agrees to take the Tulsa job (11)
- Jabari Parker is headed to the NBA (9)
- Adam Silver says raising NBA’s age limit a top priority (7)
- Former Marquette commits Ahmed Hill, Satchel Pierce follow Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech (7)