Washington D.C. - Jim Boeheim does as he’s done so many times. At the end of Syracuse’s win over Georgetown on Saturday, the head coach walks towards the opposing team’s bench, shakes hands and heads to the locker room like he expected he’d win. This is all very routine to the Syracuse head coach. After all, he’s done this over a thousand times.
But in reality, Syracuse was dead in the water against Georgetown in the second half of Saturday’s game. It was down by as many as 13 points and at one inflection, had just under a 6 percent chance to win the game. At this point, even the come from behind victories at Syracuse have become normalized.
After speaking with his team, Jim Boeheim heads to the post-game podium and speaks on Syracuse vs. Georgetown liked he knew he’d be asked about it. He talks of the rivalry fondly, but not necessarily with nostalgia.
With Patrick Ewing — a larger than life character — just opposite the sideline (this time around as head coach), it’s hard not to remember the auspicious Big East upstart in its nascent form as well as all the memories that came with a big time Georgetown vs. Syracuse matchup. All of those games back then were seemingly epics.
“Patrick was the best player we’ve ever faced,” Boeheim said in hyperbole which he’s been known to do. “It was a great rivalry. We were fortunate to even beat him a couple times.”
“He brought tremendous basketball ability and determination to the game. I’m one that always appreciated that he played like a a warrior. That’s the way you should play basketball. He played as hard as he could play,” Boeheim finished.
Syracuse and Georgetown have always been two different vessels, but today the two entities are charting in two separate oceans. While many thought Syracuse was leaving a sinking ship in the Big East Conference, the league has remained competitive in the world of lucrative television contracts for major football leagues. Although the Big East has still manufactured some solid basketball, it will never be what it was in what are now known as the halcyon days of the 1980’s.
“The league was a different league then. It was physical. Everybody was physical. If you weren’t you might as well jus take your ball and go home because you’re not going to win,” Boeheim said.
“He (Ewing) made it. I’ve always said that Patrick really, the name recruit. And then Pearl (Washington) and Chris (Mullin) who made the Big East. Dave Gavitt structured it and got it going, told all the AD’s to just be quiet and listen to him which they did. And he built a monster league. But it was those three guys that made the league,” Boeheim finished.
The Big East has stood the test of time. It’s something that is still widely talked about and will forever go down in college basketball lore. It even garnered its own 30 For 30, even if it wasn’t necessarily remembered the way it would have liked to be.
“It lasted longer than it ever should have. If you’ve got football you gotta play football. That’s the bottom line. It was a great run. It went from no league to best league in the country in five years,” Boeheim continued. “They did something that’s never been done. It will never be done again in college basketball.”
In today’s world, Boeheim is right. It would be near impossible to create something so magnificent the way the game is tailored to football and how college basketball is structured today. It was probably near impossible back then, but it would be even harder today.
As far as Syracuse and Georgetown goes? Although it might not mean as much now as it did then, the rivalry is still a viable game from a media perspective, same goes for UConn. At some point it might beget the question if these games will hurt Syracuse’s résumé and NCAA Tournament profile and that’s a discussion worth having.
But from a fan and media point of view, it’s still worthy of playing for the time being, at least while Boeheim is at the helm. Both Madison Square Garden and Capital One were electric atmospheres. It might not have the same feel, but we can all operate with the understanding that these are the sorts of games Syracuse should be playing in the non-conference even if the rivalry’s best day are behind it. The memories themselves are enough to keep the rivalry afloat.
“Big John liked to come to Syracuse. He loved that game more than anything. He loved it the most when they threw him out,” Boeheim said humorously.
“Georgetown, Syracuse, was, if you were there you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t there you missed something. This was a great game today. It was like a firecracker compared to a bomb to those games. No way in the same neighborhood. Not even in the same country, not even sure on the same earth. Is that good enough? Did I give you enough?” Boeheim both said and asked wittingly. He knew exactly what everyone was looking for.
He’s given Syracuse and college basketball more than enough and more than what he probably should have been able to, just like the Big East. And in Saturday’s game and presser, he gave the media and fans enough, too.