Hoyas Roll Towards Tournament
Basketball has changed since 1979, when the Big East first became a major national major college basketball conference, but last Saturday’s 61-39 butt-kicking of Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team by the Georgetown University Hoyas at the Verizon Center had a mighty familiar look to it: a keen, raw, riotous rivalry playing itself for the last time as part of a Big East regular season. You could sense that this game had a whiff of the 1980s going on—John Thompson, Jr, big, talkative as ever was there and so was Patrick Ewing, the Hoya center who helped Thompson make three trips to the Final Four, with an NCAA championship to boot.
This time, it’s John Thompson III—chosen Coach of the Year in the Big East Conference as it is now constituted—and star player Otto Porter, Jr., who have rocketed the Hoyas to a share of the Big East regular season title, and a number five national ranking and a possible number 1 Seed in the ensuing March Madness known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
What’s not the same is what college basketball has become—the Hoyas, almost out of self defense, are leading the way to the formation of a new Big East conference composed primarily of East Coast Catholic universities which don’t have a major football program. Syracuse, which always had a major football program (remember Jim Brown?) will flee to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which does have a major football program and an even more major basketball program. Splitting up conferences, making new ones, teams moving from one conference to another at the drop of a ca-ching is the norm these days. Most major college athletic conference are unrecognizable today—it’s no longer about proximity and geography but about television revenues and ratings.
A new Big East conference with the Big East title will begin playing next year composed of Seton Hall, De Paul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s and Villanova.
Meaning, there’s the last Big East (as it stands now) Conference tournament coming up with the Hoyas taking on either Cincinnati or Providence at noon in a quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden Thursday.
The Final Four brackets and seedings will be announced at the conclusion of the nationwide tournament games Sunday. Currently, Georgetown is ranked No. 5 in the nation behind Louisville, Indiana, Duke and top-ranked Gonzaga, a first ever for that school.
Basketball has changed in other ways, too. Rumors have it that Porter might enter the NBA draft after this season, a fairly common occurrence in NCAA basketball, where Kentucky now routinely sees almost an entire freshman class go pro, which pretty much happened last year when the Wildcats won the title.
Ewing was part of an era during which John Thompson, Jr., could build a team around the talented Ewing (the Hoyas almost upset North Carolina when Ewing was still a frosh) and still had him around as a senior. With Ewing, the Hoyas lost in the last minute to a Michael Jordan-led North Carolina squad, did not make the final the next year, then beat Houston for the national title in 1984, and lost to Villanova in a heartbreaker in 1985.
The Hoyas represent Georgetown University, but they also captured and continue to capture the hearts of the people of Washington and its sports fans.