Penultimate meeting in Big East has big stakes

It is only fitting that Georgetown and Syracuse will end more than three decades of the best rivalry in the Big East with essentially a head-to-head competition for the conference's regular-season title.

The Hoyas (20-4, 10-3 Big East) and Orange (22-4, 10-3) are tied with Marquette (19-6, 10-3) atop the standings, and each team still has five games left before the Big East tournament. But two between Georgetown and Syracuse in a span of three weekends make for an epic climax that will force the rest of the league to take a back seat. Then again, that's how it always has been.

"Since the Big East started in 1979, a lot of the more memorable games and moments have been between Georgetown and Syracuse," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "That's what makes a rivalry. It's not just what I say or what they say or what you say. It's history. It's key moments, tough contests, the teams going at each other for a sustained period of time. That's what makes it."

Up next
No. 11 Georgetown at No. 8 Syracuse
When » Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where » Carrier Dome,
Syracuse, N.Y.

The stakes have been raised even further for this season's first clash at the Carrier Dome, where 35,012 tickets have been sold, setting the stage for the largest on-campus arena crowd ever for a college basketball game. Carmelo Anthony's jersey will be retired at halftime.

Thompson's last game in Big East play at the arena -- he expects the rivalry to continue beyond this season -- stirs memories of his first while in charge of the Hoyas during the 2004-05 season. Down by two points with the ball for the game's final possession, Brandon Bowman drained a jumper that Thompson thought was a 3-pointer, failing to notice that Bowman's foot was on the line.

"I think we've just won by one point, and I go running down the court," Thompson said. "I hug Ashanti Cook, and he looks at me like, 'Coach, what are you doing? We've got overtime.'?"

That also was the moment Thompson officially transitioned from a fan brought up with the rivalry to the man responsible for it. He had listened on the radio in the family den as John Thompson Jr.'s team famously beat Syracuse on the road Feb. 13, 1980, though he didn't hear his father declare afterward that "Manley Field House is officially closed."

John Thompson III has won only once in seven visits to Carrier Dome, and juniors Markel Starks and Nate Lubick are the only current Hoyas who were on the team that prevailed in the lone victory two years ago. No matter what happens on Saturday, the collision course will reach its ultimate peak at the rematch March 9 at Verizon Center. It suits Thompson fine if both teams are still tied for first.

"Let's hope it plays out like that," Thompson III said. "There's still a lot of ball to be played between now and that last game of the season. But from my seat, if the games come down to winner take all, I'm all for it."