The end of Syracuse and Georgetown as Big East rivals

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An era comes to an end on Saturday afternoon, one that helped shape the the landscape of college basketball as we’ve come to know it over the last 34 years.

At noon on Saturday, No. 17 Syracuse will visit No. 5 Georgetown, the final time that the two times will play a regular season game as members of the same conference. Syracuse will be moving on to the ACC next season, while the Hoyas seem destined to remain a part of the Big East in name affiliation, as the Catholic 7 have reportedly paid to bring the name brand along with them as they form a new conference.

And it’s a shame.

This rivalry is as good as rivalries get. More than 35,000 showed up at the Carrier Dome to see them play for the last time in Syracuse. There won’t be an empty seat at the Verizon Center on Saturday.

But there is more to it than a simple dislike for a conference foe.

You see, the Big East was formed back in 1979. There weren’t 16 teams in the conference back then. There was no DePaul and there was no Cincinnati. Marquette and South Florida were still decades away from joining the league. The inaugural Big East had just seven teams; two of them were the Orange — the Orangemen back then — and the Hoyas.

That was 33 seasons ago, but astonishingly enough, the names of the coaches heading up those two programs haven’t changed. Jim Boeheim is still curmudgeoning his way through press conferences to this day, while John Thompson III has carried the Hoyas to a Final Four, a couple Big East titles and, this season, a top five seed while his dad — John Thompson Jr., the creator of Hoya Paranoia — watches on as an analyst-slash-cheerleader.

It was the elder Thompson that is more-or-less responsible for the rivalry being more than a simply conference feud.

First, a history lesson. At the same time that the Syracuse basketball team was joining the Big East conference, the school was trying to keep their football program at the Division 1-A level. The old Archbold Stadium was crumbling, so the school began construction on the Carrier Dome, a football stadium with a fiberglass, inflatable roof. With the project scheduled for completion in September of 1980 and the basketball program’s move into the Big East conference, it only made sense to play their basketball home games in the new facility, one that could hold many thousands more orange-clad fans than the 9,500-seat Manley Fieldhouse.

At the time, Manley was one of the most difficult places to play in the country. The Orange were riding a 57 game winning streak in Manley as they headed into the final men’s basketball game the building would host, a Feb. 12th, 1980, date with Thompson Jr.’s Hoyas. The plan, as you would imagine, was to send the building off with a farewell victory, but Georgetown had other ideas.

The Hoyas staged an epic comeback, rallying to beat the No. 2-ranked Orange 52-50. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Thompson Jr. grabbed the microphone after the game and infamously told the crowd “Manley Field House is officially closed.”

This angered Syracuse and the Orange faithful quite a bit, but hatred can only last a rivalry so long.

For a rivalry to survive in more than just proximity and conference affiliation — Rutgers and Seton Hall are must-see TV right? Dickie V’s on the call every time NC State plays Duke and North Carolina, isn’t he? — it needs three things: great teams, great players, and memorable moments.

Check, check, and check.

Georgetown made the national title game three times between 1982 and 1985, winning the 1984 title. Syracuse lost in the title game in 1987 and 1996. The Hoyas won 13 conference regular season and tournament titles between 1980 and Thompson Jr.’s retirement in 1999. Syracuse won nine in that span.

Great players came by the handful. Georgetown can claim Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith, Othella Harrington, and Allen Iverson as alums. Syracuse pumped out their own laundry list of stars — Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman, Lawrence Moten, Billy Owens.

There were plenty of memorable moments as well. After losing to Georgetown in the 1984 Big East Tournament Final in overtime, Jim Boeheim knocked over a chair and screamed “the best team did not win tonight.” On March 5th, 1990, in the Carrier Dome, the Orange beat Georgetown 89-87 in overtime, aided by a 10 point possession thanks to Thompson Jr. picking up a technical foul from three different referees. And that doesn’t come remotely close to highlighting the number of bare-knuckle brawls and buzzer-beating buckets these two programs have had over the years.

While the hatred between these two fanbases has never subsided, the national attention it garnered did in the early 2000′s (we’ll blame that on the Craig Escherick era). But this rivalry’s impact on the current landscape of college basketball cannot be overstated. The battles between Boeheim and Thompson Jr. are what the Big East was built on. They are a primary reason why the Big East is, and has been, the nation’s preeminent basketball conference.

Without it, the Big East would not have blossomed the way it did. The Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden wouldn’t have been the trip that every kid in my generation wanted to make. Big Monday wouldn’t have become must-see TV. The Catholic 7 wouldn’t be willing to spend millions upon millions upon millions to keep the league name, the league’s brand, and the league’s postseason locale.

Plenty of others played a role in that development — Rick Pitino took Providence to a Final Four in 1987, Lou Carnesecca built St. John’s into a powerhouse in the ’80s, Villanova won a national title in 1985, Jim Calhoun made UConn a top ten program in the ’90s — but Syracuse and Georgetown was as much a catalyst as any.

That’s what makes the end of the rivalry so painful for those that grew up on hoops in the Northeast.

It’s just another reminder that the Big East we’ve known and loved for so many years will come to an end this season.

And while realignment has ended so many rivalries in recent years, none have been as influential to the sport as Georgetown and Syracuse.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make between $250,000-$275,000.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that will pay players with less than three years of professional basketball experience a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $250,000 that a two-way contract will pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chasing his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.