Skip to content

The end of Syracuse and Georgetown as Big East rivals

Mar 7, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT

Georgetown v Syracuse Getty Images

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Oregon State begins practice with just nine available players

    Oct 1, 2014, 11:57 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptk4mju5ownlmzu0ngrlyznkzjy2nwjhmdvhm2mwymey AP

    Oregon State has to replace its top five scorers from last season, so being shorthanded doesn’t help matters at all.

  2. Three Dayton players dealing with health issues as practices approach

    Oct 1, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT

    Gary Bell, Dyshawn Pierre AP

    Chemistry was a key component in Dayton’s run to the Elite Eight. They’ll begin the 2014-15 season looking to rebuild that without three expected contributors.

  3. UConn’s tallest Husky wins annual preseason race

    Oct 1, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    Amida Brimah AP

    Amida Brimah averaged 4.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a freshman, and he’s fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

  4. Big Ten sends recommendations to NCAA regarding student-athlete welfare

    Oct 1, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT

    Jim Delany AP

    The Big Ten is the first of the five conferences granted autonomy to send recommendations to the NCAA.

  5. Missouri’s most productive returnee dealing with minor knee issue

    Oct 1, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT

    Johnathan Williams III, Tavario Miller AP

    With Missouri’s top three scorers from last season having moved on, Johnathan Williams III will be a key figure in 2014-15.

  6. Long Beach State loses starting guard to torn ACL

    Oct 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    A.J. Spencer, Michael Williams, Josh Gentry AP

    Spencer averaged 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season.

  7. Two Iowa State guards suspended for the season’s first two games

    Oct 1, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Both with charged with drunk driving offenses during the offseason.

  8. Frank Haith lands first commitment as head coach at Tulsa

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT

    Frank Haith AP

    Haith earned a commitment from a three-star point guard from Western New York.

  9. Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet on giving back to community: ‘Kids only listen to what they see now’

    Oct 1, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT

    Fred VanVleet, Ka'Darryl Bell AP

    Van Vleet has been attending speaking engagements this offseason, trying to give back to the youth.

  10. Oklahoma State lands commitment from elite point guard in 2015

    Oct 1, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armor Kelly Kline/Under Armor

    Jawun Evans is one of the top three point guards in the class.

  11. NCAA twitter account effortlessly trolls MLB during playoff opener

    Oct 1, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT

    Harvard v Arizona Getty Images

    Do you think the MLB needs some ice for that burn?

  12. Former Baylor commit suing former high school for alleged grade manipulation

    Sep 30, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    Scott Drew AP

    A former Baylor commit is suing his former high school for allegedly altering his grades.

  13. Five-star 2015 guard to visit SEC school this weekend

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT

    FIBA U17 World Championships - Dubai Getty Images

    Can an SEC program reel in a top-5 player in the 2015 class during a weekend visit?

  14. IUPUI unveils new court design (PHOTO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT

    IUPUI athletics IUPUI athletics

    IUPUI unveiled a new court design this week.

  15. Western Kentucky fans pick new uniform design (PHOTO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT

    Western Kentucky mascot Big Red AP

    Western Kentucky fans were given three options and selected one for the upcoming season.

  16. John Calipari hiring an analytics director is smart, necessary, strictly for his players

    Sep 30, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    NBA teams know all about efficiency stats and advanced analytics. College freshmen and sophomores may not.

  17. Mixtape for elite 2015 PG Jawun Evans (VIDEO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armor Kelly Kline/Under Armor

    Evans may be the best point guard in the Class of 2015, but it’s up for debate.