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:
- Michael Carter-Williams, who currently ranks second in the nation in assists per game (8.2) and third in the nation in steals per game (3.0), is kind of a jerk, and easily Syracuse's most polarizing player (a sentiment that is likely shared by both Georgetown fans and Syracuse fans alike). MCW, who played on the same AAU team with Nerlens Noel (excuse me while I take two seconds to throw up in my mouth), is a firebrand. After famously choking down the stretch against Villanova, Carter-Williams said the following: "Others' opinions on my game or how I play, that doesn't matter to me. That's why I play the game and they watch." That pretty much says everything you need to know about the guy.
- C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant all chose to attend Syracuse over Georgetown. Mazel tov.
- Brandon Triche, probably your average Syracuse fan's most beloved player, hails from Lower Canada himself (he was born in Syracuse). Interestingly, his cousin is former Cuse guard Jason Hart (who I vaguely remember shouting at one of my college roommates during a memorable home game against Cuse in the early 2000s). Jason Hart is now an assistant at Pepperdine.
- Back to MCW: we all famously remember when Carter-Williams stole a robe from Lord & Taylor, paid a $500 fine, called the whole thing a "misunderstanding", and didn't miss a single game. At first, we all thought the whole incident was a joke, but we overlooked two keys facts: (1) MCW is majoring in communications and rhetorical studies (so he must possess a certain savvy when it comes to handling the media), and (2) Jim Boeheim is kind of a dick. Seriously, though, how the hell did this transpire the way it did? Just admit that you stole the damn robe, show some remorse and move on. Kids make mistakes. But when you sweep it under the rug, it becomes a farce and lends credence to the widely-held belief that Jim Boeheim is a dishonest curmudgeon who will do whatever it takes to keep his players eligible.
- James Southerland. Remember him? Syracuse's 6'8'' sharpshooter, arguably the Orange's most important player down the stretch (and the guy who terrifies me the most on Syracuse), recently overcame an academic eligibility issue and was reinstated. Hooray! Justice prevails. Wait, what? Southerland allegedly plagiarized part of his term paper? Here's what Boeheim said to the press after Southerland was briefly suspended: "I feel bad for the kid. He's a senior, he has worked hard to be in school, to stay in school...He had a great semester last fall academically...I think to take away a kid's senior year is something you just hope that could never happen but we have to wait and go through the process and see where it all comes out." So, yeah. Boeheim testified that Southerland was a good kid, and the Lower Canada academic kangaroo court said "ok, whatever you say, Coach." Southerland is now back, and that really pisses everyone off.
- In unrelated news, FREE GREG WHITTINGTON. For real. How effing amazing would it be if Georgetown has been taking its sweet time resolving his case, only to magically reinstate him on the day we head up to the Dome for one final tilt against our arch enemies? There's been a lot of chatter regarding whether Georgetown has been better off without GW. My quick take: our string of success without Cool Whitt, including a 10-1 record in these last six weeks, has been nothing short of astonishing. But if Whitt is declared eligible five minutes before Saturday's showdown, or five minutes before our first NCAA Tourney game, I would take that in a heartbeat. Without Greg, we're a really good basketball team. With Greg, we'd be scary good. So yeah, free Gregg Whittington. It's only fair. If Syracuse is suiting up multiple ineligible players, so should we. Screw it, let's send Josh Smith out there, just to knock MCW on his ass.
- As you all know, Carmelo Anthony will have his jersey retired during halftime of Saturday's game, despite the fact that he only played at Syracuse for one season. Can anyone think of another example of a school retiring the jersey of a guy who only played one season? I can't, but I'm too lazy to do the research. In honor of Carmelo's big day, rumor has it that each of the 35,000+ fans at the game will receive free boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios. Side note: According to NESN, when the Knicks and Celts played each other on January 24, security at the Boston Garden confiscated 150 items (including boxes of cereal and signs) that mentioned Honey Nut Cheerios. Someone needs to bring Cheerios to the game. Please. It's only fair.
- MCW and C.J. Fair have their own Syracuse radio show. It's called the "Mike and C.J. Show." Seriously. Google it if you don't believe me. Here's what MCW had to say about Georgetown: "We've always been better than them. We always will be better than them." (Note to Georgetown staff: please print this quote and hand it to each and every player on the team. Or just Jabril.)
- MCW's mom's name is Mandy. The name makes me think of Amanda Beckett and Barry Manilow. I can't hardly wait for Saturday's game. Terrible, I know. Deal with it.
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.
- Syracuse is #21 in the nation (#2 in the Big East behind DePaul) in field goal attempts per game.
- Syracuse is #11 in the nation in offensive rebounds per game.
- Syracuse is #8 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (which means they rebound on the offensive glass about the same as Cincy, Pitt and Louisville).
- Syracuse is #5 in the nation in blocks per game.
- Syracuse is #6 in the nation in steals per game.
- Syracuse is #4 in the nation in opponents' shooting percentage. Georgetown is #10.
- Syracuse is #9 in the nation in opponents' effective field goal percentage. Georgetown is #8.
- Syracuse is #7 in the nation in opponents' three-point field goal percentage. Georgetown is #19.
- Syracuse is #26 in the nation in opponents' average points per game. Georgetown is #10.
- Georgetown is #37 in the nation in field goal percentage (46.6%).
- Georgetown and Syracuse have played each other 30 times at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse is 22-8.
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.