Feb. 12, 2012
The NFC BIG EAST
When last we met (contra the fight song, it hasn’t been so long), I noted the role of the I-95/Northeast Corridor as the traditional backbone of the BIG EAST. If anything, that looks to become even moreso the case in the immediate future, as the pending departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse eliminate the conference’s two most successful non-I-95 programs (Louisville, with two NCAA titles, might best both of those two, but it is still a relative newcomer to the league).
Zooming in a bit further, we find an extensive history of rivalry and accomplishment tying together teams from Washington, Philadelphia, and New York – Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John’s, respectively. The apotheosis of this legacy is, of course, the 1985 Final Four, the only time in NCAA tournament history when three teams from the same conference made it to the penultimate round. Insofar as Memphis’s status as the fourth semifinalist was subsequently vacated due to use of ineligible players, it would be technically correct to say that this triumvirate comprised an all-BIG EAST Final Four. It is doubtful that we will ever see such an occurrence again in our lifetimes (full disclosure: the 1985 Final Four was not in my lifetime).
The hometowns of these programs are also linked through their collective membership in the NFL’s NFC East division, where the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants have their own long and storied track record of rivalry. Sure, the Redskins technically no longer call DC home, but, then, Villanova is not in Philadelphia proper either. The basketball gods’ sense of irony is on display in the ongoing conference realignment merry-go-round, as in 2013 the “NFC East” grouping of BIG EAST programs will be complete with the addition of Dallas-based Southern Methodist University. How ‘bout them…Mustangs?
We will turn our attention to Villanova – and, eventually, SMU – in due time. For now, the focus is squarely on the Johnnies from Jamaica. It hasn’t been so long since last we met them, either, with a 69-49 Hoya triumph in Madison Square Garden coming less than a month ago, on the 15th of January. The Red Storm rang up a big fat goose egg from behind the arc in that game, going 0-for-10 from three point range and shooting a cover-your-eyes awful 31.5% for the game. St. John’s do-everything freshman forward Moe Harkless fouled out of that game, hacking Georgetown center Henry Sims on consecutive possessions to earn himself a one-way trip to the bench. That was the final dagger for the Johnnies, already overmatched in the face of a 20-point second-half explosion from Hollis Thompson, a 15-point, 8-rebound, 8-assist scoresheet stuff-fest from Jason Clark, and a double-double from freshman phenom Otto Porter.
In truth, though, that game was much closer than the final score indicated. St. John’s led or was tied for much of the first half, and they had pulled to within a three-point margin, at 48-45, at the 6:15 mark of the vesper half.™* The Johnnies also own wins over Cincinnati and West Virginia, two teams that defeated the Hoyas. They stayed within 7 points of Duke in Durham as well. This may be an incredibly young and thoroughly depleted team – Malik Stith, the final returning player from last season’s team, left the team right before the last game – but it remains a dangerous one. Much like the NFC East, where the woeful Redskins twice defeated the Super Bowl champion Giants this season, no game can be taken for granted in the BIG EAST.
A series as longstanding as Georgetown/St. John’s will have inevitably produced its share of memorable moments. In the years that I have been a Hoya fan, however, the Red Storm have largely been stuck in rebuilding mode. What comes to mind when I think of this rivalry is therefore not a pivotal, decisive moment or a #1 vs. #2 national showdown. Instead, it is a moment in the waning seconds of the meeting in January 2008, when hard-working walk-on Bryon Jansen entered the game and drilled a three-pointer under the lights of MSG as time expired. That basket brought a louder cheer than any other from Hoya fans and players alike and even drew a smile from coach John Thompson III. It was a special, feel-good moment. Here’s hoping that something along those lines is in store for the February 12, 2012 collision – preferably also with the Hoyas up double digits.
Dmitriy Zakharov (F’09, G’09)
Proud Member of Generation Jansen
*”Vesper half” is a registered trademark of Hoyas Win! x 20 Incorporated, a Dr. Rich Chvotkin Company.