But to make sure, just before the teams’ first meeting each year, Coach John Thompson III talks to his squad about its storied history — the effort and excellence that players like Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd put forth, and the big games and Big East titles won and lost over the last 33 years.
One thing Thompson doesn’t discuss is the cavernous Carrier Dome, the setting for Saturday’s highly anticipated clash between the 11th-ranked Hoyas and No. 8 Orange, who are knotted with Marquette in a three-way tie atop the Big East standings.
It will be the last Georgetown-Syracuse showdown at the Carrier Dome before Syracuse moves to the ACC next season. A record 35,012 tickets have been sold, with extra seats jammed in to ensure the largest on-campus turnout for a regular season game in college basketball history.
There’s no venue in the sport quite like the Carrier Dome, otherworldly on the exterior and oddly disorienting, at least initially for first-time shooters unaccustomed to the tricky depth-perception issues it creates.
From Thompson’s perspective, there’s no gain in adding to the building’s mystique by warning his players about its overwhelming dimensions or the din of 30,000-plus rabid Syracuse fans. Asked what he tells freshmen about the Carrier Dome, he says, “You’re going to walk in there, the basket’s going to be 10 feet, and you better make your shots.”
The Hoyas’ upperclassmen know better.
“If you just look up, the ceiling is like way up in the sky,” sophomore Otto Porter Jr. said Friday as the Hoyas prepared for their trip north. “And the stands are just big. It’s like a football stadium.”
Added junior Markel Starks, who has twice played there: “You walk in there, you see all this Orange. You see the great pride the school has for the tradition, for the team and for the Carrier Dome. At the same time, there is a depth perspective you have to take into account. Sometimes the basket seems a little further than what it is.”
Porter adapted quickly as a freshman, leading the Hoyas in minutes (40-plus), points (14) and rebounds (13) in last season’s 64-61 overtime defeat.
That said, it’s expected to be a cauldron of emotion Saturday, when Syracuse’s fans gets one last chance to heckle the Big East rival they most love to hate, cheer their Orange or shed a tear as they see fit.
Georgetown fans get their turn March 9, when Washington’s Verizon Center hosts the final installment of the Big East’s most heated rivalry.
Syracuse students have camped out for tickets since Wednesday. On Friday morning, Coach Jim Boeheim brought them coffee and donuts in appreciation.
Saturday’s proceedings will include a halftime ceremony in which Carmelo Anthony’s jersey will be retired. Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship as a freshman, then entered the NBA draft. But his love affair with the school continues; he donated $3 million toward the $19 million on-campus basketball practice facility that bears his name. And fellow members of the 2003 championship streamed into town Friday, in advance of the big game.
Gerry McNamara, also a freshman on that squad, is already in place as a member of Boeheim’s staff.
Despite the enmity he felt for Georgetown throughout his four-year playing career, McNamara said he found himself rooting for the Hoyas to beat DePaul last Wednesday so they’d have the same conference record at Syracuse, 10-3, entering Saturday’s game, hiking the already-high stakes.
“I still watch Georgetown games,” McNamara confessed. “That’s the way it goes: You hate them when you play ’em; you respect them when you watch ’em.”
Syracuse (22-4, 10-3) currently boasts a 38-game winning streak at the Carrier Dome; Georgetown (20-4) has won its last eight games. And both are coming off routs of less worthy Big East opponents. Syracuse beat Providence by 25 points Wednesday, while Georgetown walloped DePaul by 24 the same night.
Neither was expected to contend for the Big East title this season. Georgetown lost its three leading scorers from last year; Syracuse lost its best four — two seniors and two first-round NBA draft picks.
And both coaches have had to rework their rosters in recent months: Thompson after losing 6-foot-8 starting forward Greg Whittington to eligibility issues; Boeheim, after 6-9 starting center Dajuan Coleman underwent knee surgery Jan. 29. Coleman is expected to return to the lineup Saturday.
Georgetown has compensated impressively for Whittington, with Porter and Starks shouldering the scoring load. And when Porter idled with a banged-up knee much of Wednesday’s game, freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera erupted for 33 points.
Thompson said Friday that Porter was “fine” and fully prepared for Saturday, having practiced all-out the last two days.
Asked how he felt about coaching his last Big East game at the Carrier Dome, Thompson said: “It’s life. Everything is an evolution. Everything changes.”