The nearly 1,000-day ceasefire has ended.
The Georgetown men’s basketball team (3-3, Big East) will battle archrival No. 14 Syracuse (6-1, ACC) for the 91st time Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. It will be the first matchup between the former Big East foes since Syracuse departed for the ACC after the 2012-13 season. Tip-off is set for 1:00 p.m.
The seemingly endless separation, 995 days to be exact, of the two programs will not diminish the importance of the renewed rivalry, which was played annually when Syracuse was in the Big East.
“It’s Georgetown-Syracuse. Whether you’re playing three times a year like the last time we played them or whenever, it’s Georgetown-Syracuse. It’s always special,” said Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III at the team’s media availability Thursday
“There’s not any more levels of more special when it comes to playing Georgetown-Syracuse… It’s always special.”
The Hoyas enter Saturday’s contest on a two-game winning streak after dismantling Bryant (2-6, NEC) and Maryland Eastern Shore (1-5, MEAC) in the past week. Saturday’s game offers the Blue and Gray the opportunity to get a win over their bitter rival as well as notch their first win against a ranked opponent this season. Georgetown senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who scored 30 points against Maryland Eastern Shore, believes the Hoyas are getting better each day after a slow 1-3 start to their season.
“I think we’re taking great strides by taking it game-by-game,” said Smith-Rivera. “You see different things that we can get better at: rebounding, defending, keeping guys to one shot. With that… we win a few games that we lost early on.”
But Smith-Rivera cannot wait to get back on the floor against the Orange. Smith-Rivera and senior center Bradley Hayes are the only two players from the 2012-13 Georgetown team that last played Syracuse. For Smith-Rivera, the animosity still remains.
“It’s still there. No question,” said Smith-Rivera. “To me, it’s much bigger than one game. I’ve marked this game down since the summer.”
The importance of the rivalry has not been lost by the younger Hoyas who have not experienced the rivalry first-hand on the court. As a high school junior, sophomore forward Isaac Copeland attended the two teams’ last meeting at Verizon Center in the 2013 regular season finale. The Hoyas clinched the Big East Regular Season Title that game by whooping the Orange in a 61-39 blowout played in front of the largest crowd in Verizon Center history. Copeland committed to Georgetown the next day.
“I can’t even put into words how great of a game that was,” said Copeland, who cited the passionate atmosphere as one of the main reasons for his commitment.
As for the Hoyas’ opponent, Syracuse enters Saturday’s game on a losing note after an overtime loss to Wisconsin (5-3, Big Ten) this past Wednesday night. The loss came immediately after Syracuse won the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving week, which saw the team defeat No. 18 Connecticut (5-2, AAC) and No. 25 Texas A&M (7-1, SEC). Their performance in the Bahamas rocketed the team into the national rankings after not receiving a single vote in either major preseason poll.
Senior forward Michael Gbinije and senior guard Trevor Cooney lead the way for the Orange. Gbinije is the team leader nearly all statistical categories including points (19.6 per game), assists (4.3 per game), steals (3.1 per game), field goal percentage (51 percent) and three-point shooting (51 percent). Cooney complements Gbinije as an additional three-point threat and penetrator, averaging 14.9 points per game.
“It’s one of the best offensive teams they’ve had in a long long time,” said Thompson of Syracuse. “They’ve had very good players. But they’re a really good offensive team, where they all can shoot and get to the basket.”
One aspect of Syracuse that has been as constant as the bitterness between both schools through the years is its dynamic 2-3 zone defense, which predicates itself on forcing teams to simply play catch around the perimeter and become complacent to shoot contested jump shots. Thompson emphasized the adaptable nature of the zone, which makes it difficult for teams to develop a consistent attack.
“One, two, three possessions this look will be there. Then they realize that you’re looking for that and they take it away,” said Thompson. “And then it’s figuring out what’s there next. You just have to be a basketball player to have success against them.”
Another constant of the rivalry, however, will not be present Saturday: Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim. The longtime coach will begin serving a 9-game suspension as part of the punishments laid down by the NCAA for multiple violations the program committed during his tenure. Boeheim’s suspension was initially slated for the first nine games of ACC play, but a Syracuse appeal to eliminate the suspension was denied Thursday and the NCAA moved it to the non-conference season. Syracuse assistant coach, and head-coach-in-waiting, Mike Hopkins will coach the Orange.
“I don’t think it will affect much,” said Thompson of Boeheim’s absence. “If they left Michael Gbinije at home, and [Trevor] Cooney at home, then I think it would mean something.”
With or without Boeheim, one fact still remains certain for Saturday’s war: these teams do not like each other.
“If you grew up as a Hatfield, you know not to like the McCoys,” said Thompson.
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