During the great Mediterranean wars of old, the city of Syracuse found itself under attack on several occasions. In 415 BC, the Athenians laid siege to its walls. Thirty years later, the Carthaginians were repealed. In 212, the Romans prevailed.
This Saturday, the Hoyas take their turn.
While tomorrow’s clash between No. 8 Syracuse and No. 11 Georgetown won’t be the teams’ last meeting, it may well go down as one of their greatest. The Orange and Hoyas will do battle in the cavernous Carrier Dome for the final time as Big East rivals and before the largest crowd ever to witness a basketball game in an on-campus arena.
The game marks the beginning of the last chapter in the fierce conference rivalry — a rivalry considered one of college basketball’s best ever since the cold 1980 night when John Thompson Jr. declared Manley Field House “officially closed.” The two squads have combined for 12 Big East championships, 10 overtime games and scores of unforgettable moments.
It’s only fitting, then, that Saturday’s showdown has all the makings of a Hollywood epic.
There’s the high-stakes situation. The two teams enter the game having asserted their dominance as co-owners of the Big East’s top spot — Georgetown in 24-point fashion over DePaul, Syracuse by 25 over Providence. They’ll meet twice in the last two weeks of the regular season, jockeying for pole position at Madison Square Garden in their final season together.
There’s the clash of coaching titans. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim — one of the best to ever live — manages one of the country’s most dangerous, balanced teams. Georgetown’s Thompson III has marshaled the Hoyas to yet another overachieving season and is the favorite for Big East coach of the year. Each season, the dueling giants make adjustments to attack each others’ weak points; each season, the resulting chess match is one of the winter’s high points.
There’s the star power. Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr. and Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams have emerged as two of the nation’s best players in their sophomore seasons. At 6-foot-6, Carter-Williams distributes effectively for a cast of veterans; Porter Jr. is the go-to scorer and defensive stopper on an inexperienced squad.
So what should we expect?
History says the Orange — like their Sicilian predecessors — have a pretty big advantage. They rank higher than the Blue and Gray in every major statistical category. They lead the all-time series at the Carrier Dome, 22-8, where they haven’t lost there since February 2011. They’ve beaten every ranked team they’ve played this year. The record-breaking crowd of 35,012 should only make things more difficult for the Hoyas.
The caveat: The last visitor to win at the Dome was, of course, Georgetown. The Hoyas looked near-unbeatable Wednesday night — granted, against the worst defensive team in the league — and have withstood every test possible in their recent eight-game win streak. And the hosts’ statistical advantages can be chalked up to a much faster style of play.
The two coaches know each others’ tactics so well that very little will surprise either. Boeheim will likely have adjusted his legendary 2-3 zone to neutralize Porter Jr.’s midrange jumper, which caused problems for the Orange last year. Freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will also appear high on the scouting report, having racked up 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting against DePaul.
Thompson III, who did not respond to requests for comment, has his hands full with the Syracuse offense, which ranks first in the conference in scoring and has several quality options at its disposal. In addition to Carter-Williams, senior guard Brandon Triche and junior forward C.J. Fair have ranked among the Orange’s top weapons for years. Senior James Southerland, an inside-out forward who returned from academic suspension this month to save Syracuse from a midseason swoon, will pose a matchup nightmare off the bench.
Tomorrow’s game is not the final word on the Big East’s best rivalry, but its mind-blowing attendance and standings implications make it among the most important games of the college basketball season. The winner takes an important step toward the regular season title and at least a share of final-season bragging rights. And Thompson III has a chance to cement his place as a supervillain in Carrier Dome history, much as his father did at Manley Field House.
Hoya Nation can only hope that this final siege of Syracuse is more successful than those of their Athenian predecessors. If Porter Jr. and Co. keep up their recent dominance, they just might get their wish.
Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. tomorrow.