The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program announced on Tuesday that it will host Georgetown this upcoming season on Dec. 10, thus continuing the series and the longstanding rivalry.
Although the rivalry was once heated in the old Big East days, the stakes feel smaller than they used to. In large part, that’s because they are. It’s impossible for the series to mean as much in the current iteration without conference implications, multiple meetings per year and of course, the chance of meeting in a win or go home conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The rivalry has leaned heavily into tradition to this point and younger fans haven’t exactly bought into the hype. Why should they? Plenty of ink has been spilled on the state of the rivalry and nobody is fooling anyone in saying this still feels the same. So yes, this isn’t your father’s Syracuse vs. Georgetown game. But the question at this point is whether or not the game still makes sense on Syracuse’s schedule.
Syracuse is just 3-4 in the series since leaving the Big East and could be just one Tyus Battle away from being 1-6. For a program that’s by and large been on the bubble in that stretch, non-conference wins have been all the more important. Starting with non-conference scheduling, it’s clear that playing Georgetown is greeted with greater fanfare compared to just any other run-of-the-mill mid-major.
While playing Georgetown does relinquish an opportunity for a home game every other year for Syracuse, the road game does mesh nicely with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in that the Orange have built in a true road game in its non-conference schedule every year.
More pragmatically, as it relates to non-conference scheduling and the NET, it’s important not to load up a schedule with too many sub-200 NET teams to water down the non-conference strength of schedule. Conversely, non-conference schedules as difficult as last season can bury teams early with losses. Syracuse usually plays in an MTE in the non-conference as well as a Big Ten opponent. With 20 ACC games there’s more opportunity for quality league wins but less margin for error in the non-conference.
Since the NET was created, Georgetown’s average NET ranking over the past four years is 103. That’s a solid number for a non-conference opponent and offers a chance at a quadrant two or three win, but it also serves up an opponent that’s capable of winning. The Hoyas have done that.
Plus, Syracuse misses an opportunity for a home game once every two years, a chance to charge for tickets and concessions. That said, the Georgetown game in the dome is likely to generate more foot traffic compared to that one other potential non-conference home game.
Syracuse’s average attendance in 2021-22 was 20,017, a figure that obviously includes ACC games but is slightly lower as effects from covid weighed on attendance. Average attendance for the Syracuse-Georgetown series post-Big East 18,594 across all games. Average attendance at Capital One Arena is 15,587 and the dome is 24,607, excluding 2021 (no fans). Ceteris paribus, Syracuse brings in more fans for one Georgetown game than it would for any other non-conference opponent, but still loses a home game every other year.
But perhaps an undersold point is the idea of recruiting and visibility for this game. Syracuse does have a presence in Washington, D.C. and the DMV area has been a hotbed for Associate Head Coach Adrian Autry. Syracuse has recruited Jerami Grant, Frank Howard, and current Syracuse players Benny Williams, Judah Mintz, Justin Taylor and Maliq Brown from that area.
All said, Syracuse vs. Georgetown will capture attention for a sport in desperate need of viewers and intrigue in the month of December. Perhaps the point is moot given this game will likely be played so long as Jim Boeheim is the head coach. But it’s worth wondering if the game is viable.
NCAA Tournament résumés have much more to do than just standalone games, but consider this: In post Big East years when Syracuse has beat Georgetown, the Orange have made the NCAA Tournament each time. Syracuse has only made the tournament once when it loses to Georgetown.
Syracuse has more to lose here than Georgetown. The series still has value to be sure and it might even be worthwhile.
If the Orange can win.