Heading into its Valentine’s Day date with Rutgers, No. 10 Georgetown was tied for third in the Big East, with a legitimate chance to not only solidify a spot in the top four of the league, but make a February push for one of the four number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Then, the next 48 hours happened, and the Big East world was turned on its head. Louisville, fresh off a blowout loss to St. John’s, went to the Carrier Dome and stunned No. 5 Syracuse. The Hoyas stumbled in New Jersey, and then Monday night a Connecticut team that was run off of the floor by Cincinnati at home on Saturday, went to Philadelphia and beat No. 3 Villanova.
What occurred from Friday, when No. 8 West Virginia lost to No. 19 Pittsburgh, to Big Monday was nothing less than a coup d’état in the Big East. Down went the top four teams in the league – all top seven teams nationally – and up went a few teams in need of a win.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” sophomore center Greg Monroe said. “Whenever people talk about the Big East they talk about how anybody can lose. So waking up and seeing that these two teams lost and some team that is supposedly on the bottom of the Big East [won], it’s not surprising.”
As the Hoyas prepare for the Orange the pressure is all around them.
For the second time this season the two squads will tipoff as Top 10 teams. The Hoyas are also looking to avenge a road loss to the Orange last month, in which they held a 14-0 advantage before falling 73-56.
Against the Syracuse 2-3 matchup zone last month, the Hoyas stumbled over the last 30 minutes of play.
“They play that 2-3, it’s all they play,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “They know how to shut down what you’re trying to attack. There’s only so many things you can do.”
Greg Monroe says his team lost focus in the second half after its blazing start against the zone.
“We just lost focus and lost intensity,” Monroe said. “We relaxed when we jumped out 14-0, I believe. We relaxed and that’s when they turned it up. When you relax and someone turns it up, that’s the outcome. You lose.”
Thompson thinks it was simply wrinkles in how the Orange played the zone that caused the Hoyas problems.
“I disagree with Greg on that,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think that there was a dip in focus or intensity. I think [Syracuse] made some adjustments to how they were playing the zone, and we didn’t do as good of a job as we can in attacking how they made their adjustments and their tweaks.”
Either way, the key for Georgetown will to be proactive in its attack of the zone, finding creases for penetration to open up space. It’s something that is easier said than done says junior guard Chris Wright.
“Syracuse has a very good zone, and it’s different than last year because they’re much bigger,” Wright said. “They’re much bigger at the guard spots, a longer backline as well and they have athletes on the wings. It’s a tougher zone, but it’s nothing that’s impossible. There are ways to attack it and be aggressive”
Besides the rivalry, Georgetown finds itself in a must-win situation if it hopes to get a top-four seed in the Big East tournament and the coveted double-bye that comes along with it. After its Friday night win and the Hoyas’ loss on Sunday, Pittsburgh is in the fourth spot while the Hoyas are in fifth.
Breathing down Georgetown’s neck are Louisville, who pulled even with the Hoyas after beating Notre Dame Wednesday, and Marquette, who trails the Hoyas by just half a game. Cincinnati, who closes out the Hoyas’ regular season slate, is a game behind.
“It’s going to be tough,” Wright said. “As long as we keep winning. Just keep winning and control what we can control and let the rest play out.
A loss would put the Hoyas in a bad spot with road trips to Louisville and West Virginia on the horizon and matchups against Notre Dame and Cincinnati at Verizon Center.
The Orange, who remain tied for first in the Big East with Villanova, still have the Wildcats at home and a rematch on the road against Louisville. A Syracuse loss on Thursday puts Jay Wright and Villanova in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the Big East.
“In high school, you watch college basketball, and you see the commercials about [the Syracuse rivalry], and ESPN talks about it, but you don’t fully understand something until you are in it,” Monroe said. “Once I got here and we prepared for the game with the buzz around campus and talking to different people, I think that’s when you fully understand how big a rivalry it is.”
With both teams battling for seeding in the Big East and the NCAA tournament, this fierce rivalry is poised to get even fiercer.
“I think it’s really important,” sophomore guard Jason Clark said. “It’s really important to us to show that we can beat them. You know, they beat us the first game, and I feel like everyone wants to separate from the pack. So I feel like this will be the game to actually show we can separate from everybody.”
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