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.
May 29, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Khalid El-Amin’s son has game.
May 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Will Iowa State’s lone 2015 high school commit stay put if Fred Hoiberg leaves?
May 29, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Oklahoma State badly needed another big man and might have found some help.
May 29, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Duke is getting another Parade National Player of the Year.
May 29, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
With Fred Hoiberg being tabbed the frontrunner for the Bulls job, Hornacek’s name has come up as a possible replacement in Ames.
May 29, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Jones will undergo surgery June 1 in Baltimore.
May 29, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
The last time these two teams met at a neutral site was back in 1992.
May 29, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
Kansas also has plans to host former Providence center Paschal Chukwu in early June.
May 29, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
Dai-Jon Parker played this past season at the University of Indianapolis.
May 28, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Fred Hoiberg’s status has impacted recruiting in multiple cases for Iowa State this spring.
May 28, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
Big 12 tournaments held at the Sprint Center have averaged more than 18,000 fans per session.
May 28, 2015, 6:41 PM EDT
Each team will have three “permanent” opponents they’re guaranteed to play twice every season.
May 28, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT
Video surfaced showing that Alie-Cox wasn’t involved in the incident, contradicting a woman’s claim that he punched her in the face.
May 28, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
UConn’s now added three transfers to the program this spring, two of whom will be eligible immediately as graduate students.
May 28, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
Foster led Clemson to their only Elite 8 appearance in program history.
May 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
Paige went to high school an hour from UNI’s campus.
May 28, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Iowa State fans shouldn’t freak out too much.
May 28, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Dellavedova was a star with the Gaels before he became this year’s NBA Playoff star.
May 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Byers created the term “student-athlete” and first sold TV rights for NCAA broadcasts, but later wrote a book blasting the NCAA for exploiting athletes.
May 28, 2015, 9:52 AM EDT
This is a step in the right direction by the Big 12.
- #FredHoibergWatch officially commences today, as Bulls fire Thibodeau 3
- There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban 43
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer 7
- North Carolina announces receipt of Notice of Allegations from NCAA 3
- LSU’s ’25 is coming’ campaign doesn’t try to hide that they’re monetizing Ben Simmons 2
- Looking Forward: Catching up on the American’s offseason 1
- Five-star center Caleb Swanigan has committed to Purdue 8
- There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban (43)
- Four men’s teams banned from 2016 postseason due to APR scores (10)
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer (7)
- Report: Class of 2016 four-star wing considering college among playing options for next season (5)
- Frank Kaminsky writes a farewell letter to Wisconsin fans (5)