Eastern college basketball supremacy for this season will be settled today when Georgetown and Syracuse play for the ECAC Upstate New York-Southern championship at Cole Field House.
Both teams are almost certain to be in the NCAA tournament starting next week, especially with a 40-team field this year. Yet the 2 p.m. regionally televised game (WRC-TV-4) has special meaning for both Syracuse, 25-2 and ranked No. 5 and 6 in the polls, and for Georgetown, 23-4 and ranked 15th and 16th.
"What's at stake?" asked Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, which has played in six straight NCAA tournaments. "Pride, momentum, the guarantee of being in the tournament."
The winner gets an automatic tourney bid and likely will be seeded as high as No. 2 in the East regional. Despite local television, tournament officials are expecting a crowd of at least 10,000 for a game Georgetown Coach John Thompson and his players have been inching to play.
"It would be a push for Georgetown and the program for us to win," said Hoya guard John Duren. "It would help the program and would help us individually for what we want in life. It'll be on regional television so it will get exposure. You work all year for postseason play."
Georgetown will be without 6-foo-11, 250-pound starting center Tom (Mount) Scates, who suffered a strained tendon in his left knee early in Wednesday's 73-52 victory over Old Dominion. Ed Spriggs, a 6-9 freshman who has developed nicely this season, will start in Scates' place, but Thompson is worried about depth at center in what is expected to be a physical game.
"We just have to pull together more," said Duren. "We have to play smarter, box out, be very aggressive and try to outthink them. Sure, it's a big game because Syracuse is a good team and we're a good team."
There is little doubt the outcome of this game will depend on how well Georgetown contains and attacks Roosevelt Bouie, Syracuse's 6-11, 240-pound center.
"We've got to be able to control Bouie,c Thompson said, "and from the standpoint of having Ed Spriggs in the middle, I'm very confident with Spriggs' ability to play. It's just the people that come after him that I have a concern about."
Jeff Bullis, a 6-7 freshman forward who normally backs up Craig Shelton, and 6-8 freshman Mike Hancock are the backups. IIancock has played only four minutes of two games in the past six weeks.
Boeheim said that he considers Spriggs a better matchup against Bouie than Scates because the 22-year-ole freshman with no previous organized basketball experience is more mobile and is more of an offensive threat.
"It comes down to two things," he said. "How it affects them psychologically and the depth."
Boeheim also said that he suspects Georgetown may go to a slowdown. Thompson denies that he plans an outright stall, but he leaves open the possibility that Georgetown will return to the deliberate tempo that resulted in early season victories over Maryland, Indiana and St. John's.
"We can't let the tempo get out of hand," Thompson said. "We can't get involved so emotionally to the extent that some of the big guys, especially Ed, get in foul trouble. We have to be smart, but we aren't going to be reluctant to do the things we have to do."
Cary Williams, the American University coach who was beaten by 30 points at Syracuse and by eight points against Georgetown at Fort Myer, also provided an intriguing analysis.
"Obviously, Georgetown needs Scates and Spriggs," he said. "The two of them could counteract the size that Syracuse has. (Don) Schayes (the backup center) hasn't played in pressure situations. But he could come in and hurt them.
"Either forward -- (6-6 Louis) Orr or (6-8 Dale) Shacklefore -- is big for Georgetown's forwards (6-7 Shelton and 6-4 1/2 Martin). I like Georgetown's back court. I'd almost consider Georgetown like a three-man back court with Martin.
"Syracuse plays very good pressure man-to-man defense; if you're sloppy or aren't sharp they can do a lot of damage. Iths important to get a lead and control the tempo. You get behind Syracuse, they seem to get rolling and hit a streak. If you have the lead, it takes the pressure off having to score. You can take as much time as you need to score, 30 seconds or a minute, and Georgetown is good enough to handle the ball that long.