So, apparently, it's Rivalry Week, another contrived marketing device to dupe us into watching more college basketball. Like we really needed a reason. The highlight of this year's edition is no doubt tonight's tilt in the Carrier Dome between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Syracuse Orange. Now, I'll admit that I don't really know what a Hoya is, nor do I really care. But I know enough to hate them with every ounce of disdain I can muster. Georgetown is the rival to which Syracuse fans compare all others, even if the Hoyas haven't been worth a damn since Allen Iverson took his corn rows to Philadelphia.
Much has been made of another game being staged tonight between Duke and North Carolina. With merely a single point separating the two in the last 75 games, the battle for Tobacco Road has to be the greatest rivalry in college basketball, right?
Given the attention this particular statistic has gotten leading up to tonight's contest between Duke and UNC, I was curious to see how G'Town/Syracuse matched up in this regard. If these numbers are the sole measure, the battle between the Orange and the Hoyas can't be far behind.
Syracuse and Georgetown first played on February 15, 1930, in a place where I played many a pickup game, Archbold Gymnasium. The 40-18 thumping that the home team laid on the visitors is hardly indicative of the rivalry as a whole. Over 86 meetings, Syracuse leads the series 47-39. Over those 86 games, the Hoyas have scored 5,836 total points (67.8 PPG) while the Orange(men) have scored 5,881 (68.3 PPG). In all 86 contests, only Syracuse has ever broken the 100 point mark, scoring 108 on February 18, 1967. In conference tournament games (one ECAC and thirteen Big East Tournament games), Georgetown leads the Orange by a slim 8-6 margin. In overtime games, Syracuse has a commanding 6-2 advantage. By this measure, Syracuse vs. Georgetown is rivalry just as even as Duke/UNC, even more so when you consider that the Tar Heels lead the all time series with Duke by thirty games, where Syracuse only leads the Hoyas by eight games.
Now, there are all sorts of other factors surrounding Duke/UNC that make it a rivalry worthy of the attention it gets. It almost always has conference title implications. One or both of those teams is almost always ranked. UNC (5) and Duke (4) are T-third and fifth respectively in national titles won. It's a great rivalry between two great programs.
But does that make it better than any other? Are Cincinnati/Xavier, Penn/Princeton or Syracuse/G'Town any less significant because the teams involved aren't necessarily Final Four contenders? I would argue they aren't. That's why they're rivalries. They matter even if the other team is oh-fer the season. They matter even if the other team is headed to the NIT. They matter simply because of the names on the front of the jerseys, and for no other reason. Intensity and emotion matter, not records or tournament implications. Those are things are purely subjective and can't be measured. So, to say that Duke/UNC is a "better" rivalry than Syracuse/G'Town is simply asinine, and vice versa. Both bring everything you can ask for in a rivalry to the table.