On Monday, No. 12 Georgetown (15-3, 6-2 Big East) will head to the Carrier Dome to face No. 5 Syracuse (19-1, 6-1 Big East) in a battle of traditional Big East powers. Now that the conference boasts an enormous 16 schools, it can be difficult to remember the universities that made it great.
The Hoyas and Orange are two of the original seven Big East squads, and these two programs helped make Big East basketball what it is today. While the Big East was making a name for itself, these were the two schools at the forefront. In the nine seasons from 1984 to 1992, Georgetown and Syracuse won or shared the conference regular-season crown seven times.
Many of the best Big East players of all-time played at Georgetown and Syracuse. From Dwayne "Pearl" Washington and Derrick Coleman, to Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, to Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, these two schools have produced some terrific talent over the years.
As usual, there are plenty of storylines in this game. Syracuse and Georgetown are currently ranked second and third in the Big East, respectively. Syracuse is a top-five team and has lost only once all season. Georgetown is attempting to match its win total from all of last season (16).
But the biggest story might be the Carrier Dome itself. Georgetown has lost five straight and 10 of their last 11 games in the Dome, which has become a bit of a house of horrors for Hoya coach John Thompson III. Since the younger Thompson was named the Georgetown coach in 2004, he has yet to win at the Carrier Dome.
Over this period, Syracuse has lost only 14 Big East games at the Carrier Dome. That is good, but not amazing. For instance, Kansas has lost only three Big 12 home games since 2004 and has currently won 53 straight at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Nonetheless, the Carrier Dome is a notoriously difficult place for teams to play, and the Hoyas are no exception.
Syracuse has a great home-court advantage for several reasons. The main one is that the Carrier Dome is designed for football, so it is huge. Because of its size, the arena does not offer the same backgrounds that most courts have. Another reason why it is always difficult to play at Syracuse is the crowd. In upstate New York, the Orange have an NBA-style following. Unlike New York City, there is no professional team in the area. Because of that, there are season-ticket holders who live an hour or more away. (That is a foreign concept in Massachusetts.)
Entering this season, no one expected Syracuse to be a top team. Not after losing its three top scorers from last year. But what people did not realize was the depth that the Orange still possess. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson gets most of the headlines, but this is a ‘Cuse squad with a lot of talent. Freshman point guard Brandon Triche has made an immediate impact, and seniors Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku (they call him AO in Syracuse) have become leaders on a team that looks completely different from last year.
Meanwhile, Georgetown is a young team, led by two juniors (Austin Freeman and Chris Wright) and a sophomore (Greg Monroe). Freeman and Wright have elevated their games in each of their three seasons at Georgetown and are now stars. A big key to the Hoyas' success is that both of these guards shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc.
Highly-touted center Greg Monroe has also improved dramatically from his freshman to sophomore season. As a freshman, Monroe was often tentative and rarely looked to take control. This season he is doing that more and more. He is not yet a superstar, but he is well on his way. When he commits to attacking the rim, he is very difficult to stop.
With the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose and John Wall making an immediate impact in college, it is easy to forget that they are the exception, not the rule. It takes most players a year or two of college ball before they reach their true potential. Monroe will get there.
In stark contrast to old school, defensive struggles, this Big East game should be a high-scoring affair. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense continues to frustrate opponents. However, Georgetown has the tools to score against it. Inside, Monroe has the length and skill to draw the attention of the defense. On the perimeter, three of the Hoyas' top four scorers shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point land. They should be able to put some points up.
Syracuse does not have a dominant offensive player, but they do have five players averaging double figures. The Orange can score in a variety of ways. Triche can take the ball to the hole, Rautins can score from deep, and Onuaku is a load in the paint. Throw in the versatile Wesley Johnson, and the Orange are difficult to defend, especially in transition.
In the end, this game hinges on the big men. Georgetown’s Monroe is a very good offensive weapon, but he has trouble defending bruising frontcourt players. That is exactly what the ‘Cuse have Anuaku. If AO can control the paint and get Monroe in foul trouble, the Hoyas' lack of depth will be a real problem. On the flip side, if Monroe can stay out of foul trouble, he will cause havoc in the middle of Syracuse’s zone.
Every game in the Big East is a battle, but when rivals with a history like Georgetown and Syracuse get together, the atmosphere is even more electric. When one of these teams has an off year, this is still a heated contest. When both teams are great, as is the case this season, the games are often historic.
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