The Time Has Come
What began as a slow and painful march through the dying embers of the Big East conference (including a woeful 2-3 record and a mind-numbing loss to South Florida), has now come to this: after reeling off eight consecutive victories, your Fighting Hoyas now have a fighting chance to finish at the top of the conference. Improbable as it may seem, with only five conference games remaining, this young Georgetown squad has an opportunity to do the unthinkable. Five weeks after laying an egg in the Sun Dome, the Hoyas are right where they want to be: clawing their way to first place, closing out the Big East in style, and reclaiming our rightful place at the top.
Heading into the last week of February, this is where things get interesting. Saturday's matinee affair will celebrate the first of two apocalyptic showdowns between the Good Guys and the Orange. As everyone knows, there is no shortage of storylines: it's the last tilt between Georgetown and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome before the Big East explodes; there will be a sellout crowd of 35,000+ people (expected to be the largest crowd ever to watch a college basketball regular season game); it's the day when Syracuse retires Carmelo Anthony's jersey; Syracuse is riding a 38-game home unbeaten streak (the longest in the nation); and oh yeah, first place is on the line. How big is this game? Win or lose, I'm fairly certain my heart is going to explode.
No poetry or movie tributes or other gimmicks necessary. We all know what's at stake. Let's get right to it.
Meet the Syracuse Orange!
Here are a few fun facts about this year's squad of Orange All-Stars:
The Last Time Georgetown Beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome
Syracuse is currently riding the nation's longest home winning streak (38 games) into Saturday's epic battle. Who was the last team to beat Syracuse at the Dome? Yup, it was Georgetown.
On February 9, 2011, the Hoyas rallied late and JTIII picked up his first and only win against Syracuse at the Dome, 64-56. In that game, Austin Freeman led Georgetown with 14 points, while Hollis Thompson, Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn also scored in double figures. The key to the game was the improbable play of Chris Wright, who finished with only six points, but also contributed five rebounds and a game-high nine assists.
As most of you will remember, the Hoyas used Wright in the middle of Syracuse's zone to slice his way inside and either hand the ball off to Vaughn down low or pass it to wide open perimeter shooters. But the most telling stat wasn't #4's nine assists. It was the fact that Georgetown hit nine threes. Rule #1 in breaking Syracuse's zone: we need to have success from the perimeter. If we don't hit threes, we don't win.
By the way, when we last beat Cuse at the Dome, the Hoyas were ranked #11 in the country. Entering Saturday's game, the Hoyas are once again ranked #11.
Fun with Stats
As you try to dissect Georgetown and Syracuse in advance of Saturday's game, here's a closer look at where these two teams rank nationally in several key categories.
Keys to the Game
1. Perimeter Shooting: To beat Syracuse, we need to hit threes. It's the only true way to stretch the zone. Three of the four teams that defeated Syracuse this year (Temple, Nova, UConn) each hit eight or more threes. Pitt, the lone team to defeat Cuse without shooting well from the perimeter, won the game because they absolutely punished the Orange on the boards. Eight threes may be the magic number. Given how well both Georgetown and Syracuse play defense, especially the way they defend against the three-point shot, if this is a low-scoring game, we may not need to hit that many threes. But if we do, we'll increase our chances of winning significantly.
2. Limiting Transition Points: Georgetown commits a fair number of turnovers, and Syracuse excels at generating blocks and steals to create easy fast break points. We need to be careful with the ball. Lazy perimeter passes might kill us in this game. MCW, Triche and Southerland will be all too happy to make this game into a run and gun spectacle. Be patient, be smart, and don't give Cuse easy buckets.
3. Crashing the Boards: Syracuse is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. C.J. Fair, who leads the Orange in rebounding, is sneaky good at corralling the ball after missed shots. Someone will need to mark him at all times. We need to get after it, particularly after Syracuse misses shots. They say a nor'easter is coming this weekend, so I'm expecting a little bit of Thundersnow up north.
4. Breaking the Zone: It's the age-old question: what's the best way to beat Jimmy B's vaunted 2-3 zone? Do you take advantage of the short corner, put a man on the foul line, or just try to catch fire from the perimeter? When Georgetown beats Cuse, it's usually a combination of all three. In that memorable 2011 game at the Dome, Vaughn was effective underneath the basket, while Wright did a fantastic job of getting in the middle of the zone, and Austin and Hollis had a field day from three-point range. The big question entering Saturday's game: who will be the guy Georgetown uses to get into the middle of the zone? You want that person to be someone who is equally good at passing, hitting the foul line jumper, or driving to the basket. The obvious choice is Otto. But it could also be Nate (although he could be prone to turnovers). If it worked so well with Chris Wright, why not opt for a guard like Markel or DSR? I can't wait to find out.
5. Heart: For fans on both sides, everyone understands perfectly well the enormity of this game. But no matter how many screaming fans are there, or how many people will be watching, it all comes down to five good guys and five bad guys. This is why kids decide to come to Georgetown, and this is why other kids decide to go to Canada. Games like this. Rivalries like this. It's time to put your big boy pants on and play like you mean it. Lego.
One Last Rally Cry
It's hard to believe that this will be the final Big East showdown between Georgetown and Syracuse at the Dome. The last 30+ years of this rivalry have been fun, competitive, and hate-filled. And now it all comes down to one last tilt. Thanks to the magnetic lure of college football, the promise of big television payouts, and MONEY, Syracuse and others have decided to put an end to one of the most storied conferences, and one of the most storied rivalries, in all of sports. We can all bitch and moan about the future, or get excited about the future of the new basketball-centric C-7 league (depending on your preference). But the most effective way to respond to Syracuse's shenanigans is to do one simple thing: win.
On Saturday afternoon, the young Hoyas of Georgetown will face the most hostile and largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game. Syracuse enters the game riding a nation-best 38-game home winning streak, will be playing for a chance to move into first place in the conference in the Big East's final year, and 35,000+ fans will be celebrating Carmelo Anthony and rooting for one last beatdown of the Bulldogs. And you know what? There's a decent chance we might get run out of the building. We're the clear underdogs, there's no shame in losing this one, and nobody will give us much of a chance.
But here's the thing. On a cold night in February 1980, Syracuse was riding an even longer home winning streak (57 games), and nobody gave the Hoyas a chance to win that game either. But when a young man named Sleepy calmly sank two free throws with five seconds to go, nothing else mattered. Because Manley Field House was officially closed that day, and the Hoyas went on to tie for the regular season Big East crown and then win the Big East championship (against Syracuse, of course). And the rest is history.
One more game at the Dome. Forty minutes for the next forty years of your lives (or whatever terrible slash inspirational quote from a sports movie you prefer). It's time to end this rivalry the same way we started it. With a win. Let's go and get it, Hoyas. I can't wait for Jabril to punch someone.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Syracuse.
Stay Casual, my friends.