Syracuse featured the conference's player of the year and coach of the year in winning an unexpected Big East regular-season title. That doesn't mean that the Orange expect to roll through the tournament, especially with their first game against Georgetown.
The No. 3 Orange and No. 22 Hoyas renew their rivalry Thursday when they meet in the quarterfinals of the most-played series in the Big East tournament.Unranked at the start of the season, Syracuse (28-3) lost to Division II LeMoyne in an exhibition game that caused coach Jim Boeheim to say that his team needed to "grow up mentally and physically." That's exactly what happened in a big way as the Orange finished two games ahead of the pack in the powerful Big East."When you start out in the Big East, you want to do well enough that you can make the NCAA tournament," said Boeheim, who earned coach of the year honors for the fourth time. "If you can finish in the top four or five that is pretty good, but if you win the thing, I don't think it can get any better than that."Syracuse has five players who average in double figures led by Wesley Johnson, who averages 15.7. Johnson came to the Orange after two years at Iowa State and became the first transfer to win conference player of the year honors."It wouldn't be possible without my teammates," Johnson said. "We have a team full of MVPs not just me. So a piece of this trophy goes out to all of them."Syracuse won three games en route to the final in last year's tournament, needing six overtimes to get past Connecticut and one to beat West Virginia. The Orange, who fell 78-68 at Louisville on Saturday to lose the No. 1 ranking, are expecting more tight games this week."Every game will be tough," Boeheim said. "It's a nightmare. It'll be a great tournament with great games. We have a lot of good teams so any team can win."Syracuse swept both meetings with Georgetown (21-9) this season by doing a solid job of defending Hoyas star Greg Monroe, who had a total of 28 points and 13 rebounds while also committing 11 turnovers. The Orange also did a good job of getting to the line for 58 attempts."They're a good team, they can beat you so many ways," coach John Thompson III said. "They're long, they have a terrific defense, so we just need to come out and execute at both ends of the floor."Monroe and Jason Clark each scored 16 points as Georgetown advanced with a 69-49 victory over South Florida on Wednesday.The Orange and Hoyas have split 12 tournament meetings, with Syracuse winning 58-57 four years ago in the last one in the semifinals en route to its most recent title."We've played them twice already," Thompson said. "It's Georgetown-Syracuse. We know what they're going to do. They know what we're going to do."The winner of this game will face either Villanova or Marquette in the tournament semifinals.