History, big stakes collide in Hoyas-Syracuse finale

History, big stakes collide in Hoyas-Syracuse finale
March 7, 2013, 8:00 pm
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Hoyas ready to face Orange in Big East battle


Even in this over-caffeinated multimedia, 24/7 news cycle era, some events cannot be hyped enough.

Welcome to Georgetown-Syracuse, the mother of all regular season finales. John Thompson Jr., the true father of the Hoyas program and a central figure in the rivalry's history, surely must simultaneously love and loathe the matchup.

The fifth-ranked Hoyas are a win away from claiming at least a share of the Big East title for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Beat Syracuse, as Georgetown did last month on the road, and the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament also comes with the prize package.

Yet the near-term angle shares, if not takes on the subplot role Saturday at the Verizon Center. That is because the high noon tipoff will be the last regular season version with both original Big East members playing under the conference banner.

Syracuse is heading to the ACC next season while Georgetown is taking its roots to a retooled basketball-centric conference still called the Big East. The essence of the storied rivalry, one that provided John Thompson Jr. with his ultimate adversary, will be no more.

"Once the ball started to fall, conference realignment started, I don't think he cared about anyone leaving the Big East except Syracuse," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of his father, the former head Hoya. "As much as it's perceived that he hates Syracuse and Syracuse hates him, it's something that he understands is unique and special."

The current coaching Thompson, the one with a regular season title at stake, does as well.

Following Wednesday's 67-57 loss at Villanova, Georgetown (23-5, 13-4) fell into a three-way tie atop the Big East standings with eighth-ranked Louisville and No. 15 Marquette.

"From both perspectives it's very important," said Thompson, who directed the program to its last regular season title during the 2007-08 season. "Obviously if we win, we win a share of the title, which is a huge accomplishment, which is something we set out the year wanting to do. From that perspective, a very, very big day. Then overall, just Georgetown-Syracuse, this rivalry has meant a lot for both institutions to both basketball programs."

These often epic and always intense matchups were not played in a vacuum nor have an inflated sense of worth among its competitors and fan bases. Since 1980, Georgetown vs. Syracuse has provided the Big East with its competitive core, the nation with 61 must-see matchups. Number 62 comes Saturday. The Hoyas hold a 34-27 edge in Big East games, though the Orange lead the all-time series 48-40.

"In my opinion two core schools and the tradition - when you look at the history of the Big East you think Georgetown-Syracuse," Thompson said. "Goes to the success both programs have had outside of each other and then you couple that with a big game, close game, needed game that we've had with each other."

One of those big games came Feb. 23 inside the Carrier Dome as the Hoyas ended Syracuse's 38-game home winning streak behind Otto Porter's epic 33-point performance.

"It's something that is special. If we continue to play, it's going to be different if it's just a game as opposed to fighting for a league title or a league championship," Thompson said. "It's going to be different."

Starting with that loss, Syracuse dropped three straight, all coming against each of the current Big East leaders. The Orange (23-7, 11-6) ended the skid Wednesday against conference doormat DePaul.

Though out of the regular season title race, Syracuse can end Georgetown's hopes with a revenge victory. On the flip side, beating the Orange with a championship at stake would make victory all the sweeter.

Savor the flavor everyone. Regardless of the outcome and unless the two sides meet in the Big East Tournament, Georgetown-Syracuse will never be the same.

No wonder so many media outlets and team supporters want to drink in every last moment.

No wonder the usually tunnel-vision coach is talking about more than just the important upcoming game.

"College basketball is going through an evolution," Thompson said. "The fact that this rivalry is in many ways coming to end - now does that mean we're not going play them anymore? No, not at all. But as conference members, fighting for championships, playing two sometimes three times a year is coming to an end.

"It's something that's been special," the coach continued, "not only to our institutions and the Big East, but the rivalry has been special to college basketball. So no, I don't think it can be overhyped."

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