HOLLANDER | Saturday a Perfect Ending for Rivalry as We Know It
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 00:03
If there is a precedent in college basketball for the kind of atmosphere and meaning that surrounded yesterday’s Georgetown-Syracuse clash, it might be when a team plays their final game in a beloved home arena.
The heroes of the college game can’t stay more than four years — and the ones we cheer for the loudest are often gone even faster than that. Senior nights, meanwhile, can be an enjoyable ceremony and a fitting send-off, but they rarely make much of an impression on a team’s history.
Coaches can certainly make themselves legendary — consider that, in Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s 34 years helming the Orange, his former assistant Rick Pitino has found the time to coach four college and two NBA teams.
But not since John Wooden ended his run as the Wizard of Westwood by announcing his retirement before the national championship has a meaningful game doubled as a coach’s farewell party.
Other than the men who pace the sidelines, a constant in college basketball is often buildings, which makes the finale in places like Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum or Louisville’s Freedom Hall an event that is planned for years and remembered for decades.
And even more than arenas, stability has been in conferences — since Georgetown joined the Big East, it has had three home courts — but a football-centric culture has brought the old ways to an end.
So, on Saturday, there was no more fitting way for the Hoyas and the Orange to end a rivalry that began on Manley Field House’s final night than with the final game of the Big East as we knew it.
Amid all the reminiscences — something Georgetown wisely fed by including stars such as Patrick Ewing Sr. and Alonzo Mourning in the order of the day — there was a palpable sense of unease about the Blue and Gray’s new league, which will pay to keep the Big East name.
The Hoyas’ deft performance, dismantling Syracuse’s offense and holding the Orange to their fewest points in the Big East’s history, may have helped banish those worries.
The real reason that Georgetown fans shouldn’t worry, however, is that they are going back to basics.
Georgetown-Syracuse was about more than the Big East, more than the Capital Centre or Verizon Center or the Carrier Dome, more than Patrick Ewing and Carmelo Anthony, more than the John Thompsons — father and son — and Jim Boeheim: It was the distilled essence of college basketball.
By creating a league centered on basketball, Georgetown is reaffirming its identity and taking its destiny into its own hands. And, so far, the university seems to be doing everything right in setting up the new outfit.
“We’re the Big East — still — and we also have Madison Square Garden and we have some pretty damn good teams, as we just showed,” Thompson Jr. said after the game Saturday.
Take it from the man who began the rivalry, brought Georgetown to national prominence in its context and "kissed Syracuse goodbye" Saturday: The Hoyas’ future is very bright.
Starks Challenges Big Crowd to Come Again
There were 20,972 people in Verizon Center Saturday afternoon — the largest-ever indoor crowd in the DC metro area, according to Georgetown sports information — but junior point guard Markel Starks raised the thought that was on many diehard fans’ minds after the game.
“I wish we could get turnouts like this when we play teams early in the season, rather than now,” Starks said. “That would be fantastic, but we’ll work on that.”
Building attendance for what has been a very weak nonconference home schedule in recent seasons is hard, but there is no question that Georgetown could do more to drive turnout at Verizon Center in November, December and even January.
One approach would be running shuttles directly from campus to the arena, bolstering the student section by eliminating the already tenuous excuse that the commute to Gallery Place is too arduous and time consuming.
More fundamentally, as Saturday showed, fans will come out in droves for the most important games. As Georgetown transitions to the new Big East, adding quality nonconference opponents would also improve the Hoyas’ strength of schedule, potentially killing two birds with one stone.
If ‘Our Hatred Is Eternal,’ Can The Rivalry Remain?
If cleverness was the question, “Ball so hard, Lord & Taylor wanna Fine me” was Saturday’s best sign. On effort, however, it was the Stonewalls of Verizon Center section 118, who showed their talents by displaying a massive banner reading “Our Hatred Is Eternal.”
While conference realignment has shelved the annual home-and-away rivalry with Syracuse, Georgetown should still pursue a yearly meeting between the two rivals. The Orange are a consistent top-25 team, and they would be a definite boost to the Hoyas’ schedule.
Set the game for the second Saturday in December, have it televised on CBS and — with admittedly lower stakes than before — let the rivalry continue. It would be fun for the fans, who, as Thompson Jr. pointed out, might be the biggest losers in realignment.