If you’re a fan of that old-school, grind-it-out, Pearl-and-Ewing type of basketball – if your basketball memories are shaped by the old Big East in general and the jumbo-sized Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry in particular – the universe felt a little bit more aligned Tuesday.
That’s because the two old-school Big East powers – one forging a new identity in the ACC, the other reinventing Dave Gavitt’s basketball legacy in the Big East 2.0 – made it official that they’re going to get the old band together.
Starting in 2015-16, the Hoyas and the Orange will begin a four-year home-and-home series. It’s the continuation of a rivalry between two teams that have played 90 games against each other.
The first Georgetown-Syracuse game was played as the Great Depression was just darkening the United States. What many of us thought would be the final Georgetown-Syracuse game – as schools defected from the Big East in a football-focused realignment and as the league reconstituted itself as basketball-centric – was an epic overtime battle at Madison Square Garden in the semifinal of the 2013 Big East tournament. I remember the electric atmosphere at that game, the fans dropping $300 for nosebleed tickets, the appearance of college basketball greats like Derrick Coleman and Patrick Ewing in the stands, and I remember it not for what it was – one of the most exciting atmospheres I’ve ever experienced at a live sporting event – but for what it wasn’t: just one more game in a rivalry that would continue next winter.
It was exciting. And I also remember it felt like a wake.
But while we mourned the end of one of the greatest rivalries in college sports, the coaches whose basketball legacies were cemented in this rivalry knew it wouldn’t be long before the schools would meet again.
“At no point did we ever think this wouldn’t happen,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III told me Tuesday, speaking about himself and longtime Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “This rivalry and tradition is bigger than both of us. When they left the Big East, this was something we both knew had to continue.”
The rivalry will reboot in 2015-16, with Syracuse visiting the Hoyas at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The next year, Georgetown will head north to the Carrier Dome.
This rivalry and tradition is bigger than both of us. When they left the Big East, this was something we both knew had to continue.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III
We can only hope this relationship bound by hatred and respect will survive the two-year break; I have little doubt it will. We can only hope the games themselves can measure up to their prior meetings: Georgetown battling from 11 back to send the 2013 Big East tournament game into overtime, then Syracuse eking out a win that helped propel it to an unlikely Final Four run. Or Gerry McNamara nailing a three at the buzzer and defeating the Hoyas in 2004. Or John Thompson Jr., father of Georgetown’s current coach, getting three technical fouls on the same possession back in 1990. Or Ewing nearly decking Pearl Washington with a fist in 1985. Or Georgetown ending Syracuse’s 57-game home winning streak in the final game at the Orange’s old field house in 1980. No doubt old Big East fans have stored these memories in their basketball minds forever; I know I’ve written about these moments plenty.
Will the rivalry pick right up and have the same meaning as it did back when these were conference games? I don’t know. I do know I went to the University of Missouri, and I would absolutely love for Mizzou and Kansas to continue their age-old rivalry. The same could be said for fans of Texas and Texas A&M, or Nebraska and Oklahoma, or Notre Dame and Michigan, all part of longtime rivalries that didn’t survive realignment.
I know this is a great thing for both schools because it’ll only drum up more interest in each. I know it’s great for college basketball as a whole because new rivalries can’t match this sort of history. And honestly, I tend to think it’s good for the new Big East, even if this renewed rivalry really has nothing to do with the year-old, 10-team conference. Any association the new Big East can keep with the old Big East is a positive thing.
“When you have so much history, so much tension, and you have so many heated contests that come down to a possession here, a possession there …” Thompson said. Then he rattled off some of the names from his youth and from his coaching career: Pearl and Patrick, of course but also Sleepy Floyd on through Otto Porter. “ … there’s just so much history there. There are quite literally hundreds of memories.”