Big East’s top rivals ending era
by Kevin Joseph, USA TODAY Sports
Jim Boeheim has seen plenty of change in his 37 years at the helm of Syracuse’s basketball program. As he has won 912 games, the college basketball landscape has undergone multiple realignments.
The latest conference upheaval threatens perhaps the one constant during Boeheim’s tenure: Syracuse-Georgetown. Since the Big East’s founding in 1979, an annual matchup between the schools has been as much of a certainty as death and taxes.
Since 1980, the intensity behind those games has been unquestioned as well, thanks to John Thompson Jr.
Riding a 57-game home winning streak, No. 2 Syracuse was not expecting much of a battle from Thompson’s group that season. But Georgetown’s hulking 6-10 coach established himself and his program with a signature 52-50 stunner vs. the Orange on Feb. 12, 1980.
After the victory, in an act of defiance and jubilation, Thompson declared, “Manley Field House (Syracuse’s former home venue) is officially closed.”
Decades later, Saturday’s Georgetown-Syracuse matchup in Washington looms as the final scheduled chapter in an epic saga. The schools have played each other 88 times since 1930, but 75 have come in the Big East era, during which both programs have won a national title and reached multiple Final Fours (Georgetown four; Syracuse three).
At the end of this season, Syracuse (23-7, 11-6) is departing for the ACC. Georgetown (23-5, 13-4) is leaving the Big East as we know it, too, bound with the so-called Catholic 7 to form a basketball-only conference as Big East schools with football interests such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville have fled. The latter two are also ACC-bound.
“Sad? No. It’s life,” current Georgetown coach John Thompson III says. “Everything is an evolution. Everything changes.”
Thompson and Boeheim are confident the rivalry will continue as a non-conference matchup. Nonetheless, for more than 30years, Georgetown and Syracuse lived with that annual expectation of facing each other, typically with large conference stakes on the line.
“It was the premier rivalry during the history of the Big East,” Boeheim says. “At one time, for a 10- or 15-year period, it was probably the No. 1 rivalry in the country. It’s had a lot of emotional … [For more on Big East's top rivals ending era, click here.]