Rivalry Breakdown: Syracuse-Georgetown
When the Big East was formed in 1979, it was guaranteed to generate some new rivalries along college basketball’s East Coast. What wasn’t guaranteed was that the best of those rivalries would turn out to feature two of the most successful programs in the country, but Syracuse and Georgetown provided just that.
Between them, the two teams have accounted for eight Final Four appearances and a pair of national titles since their formerly shared conference was formed. The rivalry’s currently on hold as Syracuse tries to fit the games in alongside a crowded ACC schedule, but it’s already produced more than its share of basketball icons, from Allen Iverson to Carmelo Anthony.
In this slideshow, we'll take a closer look at the Hoyas and the Orange, including the players, games and moments that have defined the signature matchup of the original Big East.
Wins: Syracuse 49, Georgetown 41
Conference Championships (regular season only): Syracuse 10, Georgetown 11
National Titles: Syracuse 1, Georgetown 1
Consensus All-Americans (first team): Syracuse 4, Georgetown 6
NBA Players Produced: Syracuse 42, Georgetown 39
Syracuse’s All-Time Starting 5
C Rony Seikaly
PF Derrick Coleman
SF Billy Owens
SG Dave Bing
PG Sherman Douglas
Coleman and Seikaly are the relatively easy picks here, ranking one-two, respectively, in career rebounds for the Orange and tied for third in blocks. Coleman, of course, is also No. 2 in scoring with 2,343 points.
Owens, who reached No. 12 on the points chart in just three seasons, followed Coleman as the second consensus All-American in program history. Bing, the only Hall of Famer who wore a 'Cuse uniform, lapped the field with a career average of 24.8 points a night (which is why even career points leader Lawrence Moten stands aside to make room for him here).
Point guard is the toughest choice of all, with Michael Carter-Williams the most recent addition to a staggering selection of talent. For all MCW’s versatility and Pearl Washington’s clutch scoring, though, Douglas has to be the pick after recording 960 career assists, a Division I record at the time and still good for sixth on the all-time charts.
Georgetown’s All-Time Starting 5
C Patrick Ewing
PF Alonzo Mourning
SF Reggie Williams
SG Allen Iverson
PG Sleepy Floyd
Iverson, a point guard as a Hoya, would have been even more effective (a scary thought) with a playmaker like Floyd alongside him. Between them, they have two of the top three career scoring averages in school history.
Mourning, a natural center, really did play power forward at times alongside fellow defensive whiz Dikembe Mutombo (an especially painful omission from this lineup). Ewing, with his three Final Four trips and three consensus All-America nods, is on the short list of the greatest college players in history.
As a pro, Williams was best known for his impenetrable defense, but he was also a fearsome scorer with the Hoyas, placing third in school history with 2,117 career points.
Most Iconic Coaches
To a good approximation, one out of every two wins in Syracuse history belongs to Jim Boeheim. Now second only to Mike Krzyzewski in career Division I victories, Boeheim has elevated the 2-3 zone to an art form no other coach has matched.
John Thompson Jr. built Georgetown’s program from obscurity to dominance behind his singular ability to recruit great post players. A power forward for Providence in his youth, the 6’10”, 270-pound Thompson was among the most physically imposing coaches ever to prowl the sidelines, and he had the motivational ability to match.
It also doesn’t hurt the towel-wearing titan's legacy with the Hoyas that their current bench boss, John Thompson III, is his son.
Most Memorable Games
5. 1987: Georgetown 83, Syracuse 81
No. 6 Syracuse, bound for the 1987 national title game, enjoyed a rare height advantage over the 11th-ranked Hoyas thanks to 6’11” Rony Seikaly and 6’10” Derrick Coleman. Playing at home, John Thompson Jr. responded by pitting Seikaly against 6’4” Perry McDonald, who had the game of his life: 23 points and a buzzer-beating jumper to win the game in OT.
4. 1988: Georgetown 69, Syracuse 68
Locked in a back-and-forth battle with the No. 15 Hoyas at the Carrier Dome, No. 14 Syracuse got a clutch basket from sensational junior Sherman Douglas to take the lead with eight seconds remaining. Unfortunately for the then-Orangemen, neither Douglas nor anyone else managed to stop Georgetown’s Charles Smith, who took the ball the length of the floor to scoop in a game-winning layup.
3. 2013 Big East Tournament Semifinals: Syracuse 58, Georgetown 55
After a no-show a week earlier in D.C., Syracuse’s offense managed to put up a fight at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown had to claw back from seven points down in the second half before Otto Porter Jr.’s one-and-one free throws sent the game to overtime.
In the OT, Brandon Triche had the basket that put Syracuse on top for good, but the one that will linger in memory is C.J. Fair’s highlight-reel dunk in the face of the 6’8” Porter.
2. 1985: Syracuse 65, Georgetown 63
Rafael Addison’s 26 points and 12 boards helped No. 9 ‘Cuse build an eight-point second-half lead before top-ranked Georgetown battled back at the Carrier Dome. Patrick Ewing, who finished with 21 points and 17 boards, put Georgetown up by one in the waning minutes, but Pearl Washington stroked a jump shot from the elbow with eight seconds remaining that gave the Orange(men) the win.
1. 1980: Georgetown 52, Syracuse 50
Syracuse’s first season as a member of the Big East was also the last for venerable Manley Field House as its home basketball venue. The Orange(men) had won 57 games in a row on that floor and were ranked No. 2 going into the stadium’s last-ever contest.
The unranked Hoyas, though, wasted no time in earning the animosity of their new conference rivals (whom they were facing for the first time in Big East action). After Syracuse had built a 30-16 lead at the half, Craig Shelton scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half to key the Georgetown rally. With just five seconds left on the clock, Hoyas star Sleepy Floyd buried two free throws to secure the upset.
After the horn sounded, Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. provided the tag line for the game that started it all: “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Syracuse Fan
In one of the most physical rivalries in the nation, tempers have flared on more than a few occasions, but there’s never been a more memorable loss of composure than Michael Graham’s 1984 meltdown.
Although Graham appeared to throw a punch at Orange forward Andre Hawkins during a tense Big East title game, the referees (after an initial disagreement on the call) ruled it an intentional foul rather than a punch.
As a result, Graham stayed in the game instead of being ejected, a fact that gave Georgetown a welcomed boost in terms of depth when the game went into overtime. After the Hoyas pulled out an 82-71 victory, Jim Boeheim fumed, “Today, the best team didn’t win.”
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Georgetown Fan
John Thompson Jr. set an ignominious record in 1990 at the Carrier Dome, where he managed to get nailed with three technical fouls (one from each of the three refs) before he was finally escorted from the floor.
Thanks to the glut of free throws, Syracuse converted one possession into 10 points on the scoreboard, but the game was far from over.
Indeed, despite the points gifted to them by Thompson, the Orange still trailed in the final seconds until ‘Cuse star Billy Owens, dashing toward a last chance at a basket, drew a Sam Jefferson foul at midcourt.
Owens took full advantage of the free-throw chances, sending the game to OT. There, Stephen Thompson would provide the decisive bucket to win the game (89-87) and the regular-season Big East crown for the home team.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Syracuse
Although John Thompson Jr. spent years cultivating the hatred of Orange fans, nobody matched the intensity they reserved for Patrick Ewing.
Sometimes that led to the fans crossing a line—from racially charged signs ridiculing Ewing’s intelligence to an orange thrown from the stands while he was shooting free throws—but the center, on his side, had certainly earned a chilly reception from the Carrier Dome faithful.
In the first place, of course, he was a phenomenally talented player who put up individual performances like the 27-point, 16-rebound showpiece that won the 1984 Big East title game over the then-Orangemen.
Just as important, he wasn’t exactly a choirboy himself, famously throwing an errant right hook at Orange superstar Pearl Washington. That incident occurred in 1985, three months after Pearl had beaten the Hoyas on a last-second jumper.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Georgetown
Like so many Big East teams, the Hoyas came to hate the sight of Gerry McNamara with a ball in his hands. The Syracuse marksman made a career out of flooring opponents with game-winning treys, and Georgetown was certainly no exception.
When he was a sophomore in 2004, the Hoyas sent a triple-team at McNamara to no avail, as he launched a three-point buzzer-beater before they arrived. Final score: Syracuse 57, Georgetown 54 (in D.C.).
Two years later, the senior led one of the greatest runs in the history of any conference's tournament, including a 17-point performance against the Hoyas that he capped off by assisting on Eric Devendorf’s game-winning shot.
Oh, and McNamara also forced a final turnover to keep the Hoyas from pulling off a miracle of their own in the last two seconds of a 58-57 thriller.
Syracuse’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
When these two programs are at their best, they’re all but indistinguishable, having each made five Final Fours and cut down the nets at one of those. In terms of sustained excellence, though, Syracuse has a small but noticeable edge.
The Orange have appeared in 36 NCAA tournaments in their history, against just 29 for the Hoyas.
The biggest reason for that edge is that ‘Cuse managed to show up on the national radar even without the benefit of a conference. Stars such as Louis Orr (at right in photo) led them to seven straight March Madness fields as an independent before the Big East was even born.
Georgetown’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
When it comes to producing NBA stars, Syracuse can’t even approach the Hoyas’ success. Although the Orange have a slight edge in quantity (42 total players to 39), the quality is overwhelmingly on Georgetown’s side.
Of the 17 All-Star games reached by Syracuse alums, over half belong to Carmelo Anthony. Meanwhile, Dikembe Mutombo, the third-best NBA center to come out of Georgetown, has 10 such appearances by himself.
In all, five former Hoyas have made a whopping 41 All-Star appearances, with Allen Iverson a lock to join Patrick Ewing in the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible (and Alonzo Mourning having an excellent chance in his own right).
The Final Word
In a matchup renowned for nail-biting finishes, it’s fitting that the determination of who’s ahead in the rivalry should also come down to the wire.
And, as in so many of the games these teams have played on the floor, Syracuse gets the win here despite Georgetown’s superior talent.
Even though the Hoyas turned out NBA stars by the bushel under John Thompson Jr., they couldn’t erase one statistic: Syracuse has still beaten them in more head-to-head meetings, 49-41.
When the numbers can’t pick an obvious winner on paper, it’s tough to argue with the team that’s done the most winning on the hardwood.
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