A casualty of conference realignment will be a boon for the turnstiles at the Carrier Dome.
With Syracuse off to the ACC next season, Saturday’s matchup will be the second-to-last regular-season meeting in a a storied Big East rivalry between the Orange and Georgetown and the last in upstate New York.
Syracuse is sending the series out in style, at least. The Orange will have the record crowd at a fever pitch. With added seating in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse already has announced a sellout with a ticket count of 35,012, the largest crowd for an on-campus game during the regular season.
But the game isn’t just an opportunity for Syracuse-Georgetown nostalgia. With an eight-game winning streak, Georgetown has moved into a three-way tie for the Big East lead along with Syracuse and Marquette.
Both teams have a Big East Player of the Year contender with the Hoyas’ Otto Porter putting the team on his back iHe’ll try to out-duel Syracuse’s breakout point guard Michael Carter-Williams for what could be another chapter in a rivalry that will be altered thanks to a changing college landscape.
One of the key stories for both teams this season has been how each team has dealt with absences. Georgetown has thrived without George Whittington, who remains the Hoyas’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder despite being declared academically ineligible in January.
Meanwhile, Syracuse stumbled at times without James Southerland, who has since returned from being ineligible, and DaJuan Coleman, who remains sidelined following knee surgery.
GAME OF THE WEEK
GEORGETOWN PROBABLE STARTERS
SYRACUSE PROBABLE STARTERS
Game-defining matchup: Georgetown’s Otto Porter v. Syracuse's zone defense
How will Syracuse defend Georgetown’s do-it-all forward Porter with the zone? Porter could hurt Georgetown by scoring inside or outside -- the 6-8 forward is 29 of 65 from three-point range this season -- or he could beat Syracuse with his passing from down low. Whether it’s Rakeem Christmas on the inside or C.J. Fair and Jeremi Grant on the perimeter, Syracuse will need a team effort to shut down Georgetown’s MVP.
Player we’re watching: Georgetown’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
The Hoyas would like to find a No. 2 scoring option after Porter. The freshman Smith-Rivera showed signs he might be that guy. He scored 33 points on 10 of 12 shooting in Georgetown’s win over DePaul on Wednesday. Sure, that’s against DePaul, but Smith-Rivera averaged 10.6 points per game in the eight games prior to his breakout against the Blue Demons.
Stat that matters: Syracuse’s three-point shooting
When James Southerland was out for six games, Syracuse didn’t just miss 13.8 points per game the sixth man brought off the bench. The Orange missed his a ability to stretch the defense. With Southerland out, Syracuse attempted 15 three-pointers per game, making 32.2 percent of them. Since Southerland returned on Feb. 10 against St. John’s, Syracuse is attempting 18.8 threes per game, making 36 percent of them. That’s good news, but Georgetown will be the best defensive team Syracuse has faced since Southerland returned.
How Georgetown can win: Frustrate Michael Carter-Williams
The formula is pretty simple for defeating Syracuse: Limit Carter-Williams’ playmaking ability, and Syracuse will have some difficulty. The Orange are 1-3 in Big East play when Carter-Williams has fewer than five assists and 0-3 when he has more turnovers than assists.
How Syracuse can win: Put pressure on Porter’s supporting cast
Point guard Markel Sparks and Smith-Rivera have been more productive with Whittington out, but this remains Porter’s team. In each of the last two games, Porter has been the third-leading shot-taker on his own team, yet the Hoyas won both games. It seems a stretch for Georgetown to win a game on the road against Syracuse with someone other than Porter taking the most shots from the field.
Prediction: Syracuse 65, Georgetown 58
WEEKEND ON TAP
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NC State at North Carolina (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Tar Heels are probably in the NCAA Tournament field, but defeating NC State would ease a few doubts about North Carolina’s chances of reaching the field. Meanwhile, NC State is looking for its first regular season sweep of the Heels since 2003. North Carolina has enjoyed a boost from P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 20.7 points per game since re-entering the starting lineup in the last three games.
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New Mexico at Colorado State (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
It’s safe to say this is the biggest week for Colorado State basketball in recent memory. The Rams faced UNLV on Wednesday but lost 61-59. They'll return home to face the MWC-leading Lobos for a chance at a conference title. Colorado State is searching for its first league championship since 1988-89, when Boyd Grant led the Rams to the outright WAC title. New Mexico beat CSU 66–61 in Albuquerque in late January.
Related: Freshman of the Year debate: Bennett, McLemore or Smart?
Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
The marquee matchup in this year’s BracketBusters may actually impact the brackets. Creighton, despite its recent struggles, isn’t in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, desperately needs a quality win. The Gaels have a gaudy record (21–5), but their RPI is 51 and they don’t have any wins vs. top-60 RPI teams. It’s fair to call this a must win for SMC.
Marquette at Villanova (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Villanova responded to its wins over Syracuse and Louisville in January by losing back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Providence. How will the Wildcats respond to defeating Connecticut on the road last weekend, a win that may put them back into the NCAA field? Meanwhile, Marquette is looking to stay in the Big East regular season title race. A win in Philly would keep Marquette in a tie with the Syracuse-Georgetown winner.
Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Anyone else starting to have doubts about Florida’s Final Four potential? The Gators are beating teams by an average of 20.7 points per game, but their best wins outside of Gainesville are over Florida State in Tallahassee and Air Force in Sunrise, Fla. In their last road games against competent teams, they lost 80-69 to Arkansas and 63-60 to Missouri. Arkansas looks like an NCAA Tournament team at home, but they’ve been dismal on the road, including losses to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Stanford at Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Stanford may have played itself out of NCAA contention by losing three of four, including its second loss of the season to USC. The Ducks are hopeful they’ll have starting point guard Dominic Artis back for Stanford, who defeated the Ducks 76-52 with Artis sidelined. Oregon has gone 4-3 without their standout freshman point.
Missouri at Kentucky (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a huge hit last Saturday with a 30-point loss at Tennessee. It’s imperative the Wildcats show they can beat quality opponents without center Nerlens Noel (torn ACL) in the lineup. They whiffed on their first attempt and squeaked by Vanderbilt. But the Cats still have opportunities against Missouri and Florida. The Tigers will be in the NCAA Tournament, but they will not like their seed too much unless they start winning some games away from home. Mizzou is 1–6 in true road games, with the only win coming at Mississippi State.
Ohio at Belmont (Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2)
After Creighton-Saint Mary’s, this is the top BracketBuster with two high-level teams in their respective conferences. The matchup of mid-major point guards Ian Clark (Belmont) and D.J. Cooper (Ohio) is the main draw here. Clark is one of the most efficient players for his size (6-foot-3). He’s shooting 55 percent from the field, 48 percent from three-point range and 81 percent from the free throw line. Cooper is working on a unique career with 2,000 career points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals.
Illinois at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
It’s been a streaky season for the streak-shooting Fighting Illini. After losing six of seven during one long stretch of Big Ten action, Illinois has now won four straight, highlighted by the buzzer-beating victory over Indiana two weeks ago. Michigan struggled to beat Penn State at home on Sunday, but the Wolverines were due for a sluggish performance after facing Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in consecutive games.
Cincinnati at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Just two weeks ago, Cincinnati was 18–4 overall and 6–3 in the Big East. Now, after three losses in four games (including two at home), the Bearcats are 7–6 in the league with road trips to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville looming. It’s not quite time to panic, but Mick Cronin’s team could really use a win. Notre Dame picked up a much-needed win on Monday night, rallying from an early 19–3 deficit to beat Pittsburgh 52–42 on the road. The Fighting Irish had struggled in their previous two games, losing at Providence and needing overtime to beat DePaul at home.
Michigan State at Ohio State (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)
It’s another huge battle between Big Ten heavyweights. Michigan State is making a push toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This might not be Tom Izzo’s most talented team, but the Spartans are finding ways to win. Ohio State is likely out of the Big Ten title race after losing three of its last four, but this is still a very good team that is in position to secure a top-four seed in the NCAAs. The Buckeyes trounced a Tournament-bound Minnesota team 71-45 on Wednesday.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.