This weekend is a dog whistle for all those who bemoan the loss of collegiate sports pre-realignment. While at first, basketball was not as outwardly affected by realignment as football, the destruction of the old Big East is easily realignment’s largest lasting impact. This consolidation of power impacted so many schools and their fans, but nothing took the brunt of it quite like Big East basketball.
Partially, this was because the Big East insisted it could live on, and to the conference’s credit, it has. However, what made the Big East the BIG EAST is gone, and UConn’s return won’t fix the fact that the spectacle that used to be conference rivalries and tournaments just doesn’t have the history or heart it once did. DePaul vs. Creighton on a Monday night isn’t exactly captivating the entire East Coast, after all.
And for those schools that left, like the Syracuse Orange, the grass may not necessarily be greener, but there’s certainly more than enough monetary green to make the move worthwhile. Unlike football, Orange basketball had legitimate hate for their old conference foes like the Georgetown Hoyas and have done what they can to keep the old flame going one weekend a year. Hell, the Georgetown - Syracuse games are doing what they can to keep the interest and spirit of those old Big East boxing tilts.
And yet every single year, someone inevitably asks if Duke is a bigger rival than Georgetown. Someone will smirk and ask if this game means anything to either of these players, who probably don’t remember the old Big East. The two coaches, Jim Boeheim and Patric Ewing, inevitably invite this conversation with their mere presence, and thus we entertain the question, fire off a few tweets and carry on.
This isn’t the highlight of Syracuse’s season. If the Orange loose, it stings, but ask the 2015-16 team if that game stands out from that season. If the Orange win, we are sure as hell going to celebrate, but ask the 2017-18 team if that win stands out from among the rest.
This isn’t the game that defines either team’s season anymore. That’s fine. It’s a weekend for the Orange fans in D.C. and elsewhere to reminisce. Remember the good times. Remember the bad times and get fired up. The Orange that invade the Whatever-It’s-Named-Center on Saturday are there because it’s Syracuse vs. Georgetown.
It still means something.
It just doesn’t mean everything.