Men's Basketball

Iseman: Despite Syracuse’s move to ACC, rivalry with Georgetown should continue

Through the years, the rivalry boiled. It was built on moments that defined intense clashes between two physical teams in Syracuse and Georgetown. They defined the Big East. They etched unforgettable memories into the minds of college basketball fans across the nation, and formed a relationship that reflected what the Big East once truly was.

It could never come to an end. This rivalry meant too much.

But then Syracuse announced it would be leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. A mass exodus from the now-fledgling league followed, leaving a hodgepodge of mediocre basketball programs that look nothing like the programs that built the Big East.

The final blow, though, is one that never needs to be delivered. The rivalry between Syracuse and Georgetown cannot be contained by the parameters of conferences. Its history is too deep-rooted to forget. Those memories are lasting. The disdain that formed between the programs and their fans continues on and unfolds in raucous environments.

On Saturday, Syracuse and Georgetown will play each other in one last Big East Carrier Dome clash.

Some rivalries mean more to the sport overall. Syracuse and Georgetown are a part of the fabric of college basketball. They might not be in the Big East together anymore, but they have such a deep-rooted history that their rivalry transcends the league. It’s bigger than the Big East.

The future of the rivalry will certainly be different. They won’t meet in the Big East tournament anymore. There will never be another performance between the two schools that includes the type of heroics Gerry McNamara provided in 2006, when he scored 15 points in the second half to lead the Orange over the Hoyas. There will never be a Big East title up for grabs when the two schools meet again in future seasons.

It’ll be different, but in many ways, exactly the same.

“Obviously, the rivalry is something that’s special,” GU head coach John Thompson III said last week. “It’s one of the most special ones in college basketball. The fact that they are changing conferences, it’s going to be different, but I still anticipate us playing.”

After Syracuse’s loss to Connecticut last week, SU head coach Jim Boeheim said you have rivalries against teams in your own league. That’s certainly true. In the Orange’s case, though, those rivalries don’t exist yet.

Eventually, it’ll form rivalries with Duke and North Carolina. But the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will always have the most intense rivalry in the ACC because of the regional aspect.

Maybe there will even be a rivalry with Boston College, a former Big East member. But it will take years for any of those rivalries to reach the intensity of the one between Syracuse and Georgetown.

They need moments that stand still in time. They need John Thompson Jr. to declare Manley Field House closed after the Hoyas’ win over the Orange in 1980. They need Michael Graham to deliver a left hook to Andre Hawkins in a fight for a rebound in a clash in 1984, only to be called for a personal foul and not be ejected. They need McNamara’s heroics.

Rivalries take time to develop. Syracuse and Georgetown’s doesn’t need to end this abruptly.

Both Boeheim and Thompson have said they’re interested in continuing to play each other beyond this season. It’s a relationship that should continue for the schools and the fans.

Georgetown is part of the “Catholic 7,” the group of basketball-only schools in the Big East likely to defect from the league in the coming seasons. Who knows what rivalries the Hoyas can build in a newly formed league against teams of which they haven’t seen much?

It would also benefit Syracuse, since Boeheim and the Orange are often criticized for playing a weak nonconference schedule. Playing Georgetown would add an extra-competitive, intense and emotional game to the schedule.

There are too many reasons for the rivalry to continue and not enough for it to end. This rivalry extends past the Big East or ACC. The history of the rivalry runs deep.

“Hopefully it’s not the last time I or Georgetown comes to the Dome,” Thompson said of this weekend’s game.

There’s no reason it should be.

Chris Iseman is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at cjiseman@syr.edu or on Twitter at @chris_iseman.

  • icanewfriend

    Agree! They are making a big deal about continuing to play St. Johns, instead. THAT series hasn’t been half as great as the one between SU and the Hoyas for a long time. The fuss is simply an excuse to play in Madison Square Garden and in NYC. The move to the ACC will hurt NY metro fans. No Rutgers and No Seton Hall games create a bigger deal for NY area games vs. St. Johns than vs. Georgetown in DC.

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