Georgetown’s rich basketball history includes seven Big East tournament titles - a league record the 22nd-ranked Hoyas will try to extend Saturday.
For now, West Virginia would be happy with one.
Along with the championship of arguably the nation’s most competitive conference, the seventh-ranked Mountaineers may also have a chance to grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they beat Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.
While the Hoyas have long felt at home on Broadway, West Virginia (26-6) came to Manhattan with a starting lineup comprised entirely of New York-area natives. They’ve muscled the Mountaineers to the brink of their first Big East title.
“It would mean the world to me, just because it would be the first one, and I was part of the team,” star forward Da’Sean Butler said. “It would be something special.”
West Virginia, which lost to Syracuse in the 2005 final, hasn’t had an easy path to a second title game appearance.
The third-seeded Mountaineers were the only one of the Big East’s top four seeds to survive Thursday’s quarterfinals, beating Cincinnati 54-51 behind Butler’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The senior had 24 points as West Virginia outlasted Notre Dame 53-51 in a semifinal Friday.
The team’s 1-3-1 zone defense has helped hold the two opponents to 33.7 percent shooting.
“It’s tremendous, I’ve been here a number of times. We’ve been to the semifinals pretty much every year but my freshman year,” Butler said. “… We can’t blow this opportunity. I’m looking forward to this game tomorrow really bad. It’s just an honor to be in this game.”
Georgetown (23-9) will be appearing in the Big East final for the third time in the last four seasons and the 13th time since the tournament began in 1980.
Another Hoyas tradition has been standout centers, including Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. Greg Monroe’s name may not fit alongside those players quite yet, but he could be on his way after another stellar performance in Friday’s other semifinal.
Monroe had 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists to lead Georgetown over Marquette 80-57. The sophomore was also three assists shy of a triple-double Thursday in a 91-84 quarterfinal upset of top-seeded Syracuse.
“We know that Greg is a phenomenal player,” Georgetown guard Chris Wright said. “It’s not like he just started doing this in the Big East tournament. We know he can pass, we know he can score.”
Wright had 27 points against the Orange and is averaging 19.0 during the tournament, but if the eighth-seeded Hoyas want to win it all they’ll have to earn a victory for the fourth straight day.
They haven’t needed to do that for any of their previous seven titles, but Monroe said it has been in the team’s plans all week.
“At the end of the day, now it’s the championship game,” Monroe said. “I know as a team we came here to win this tournament, and I mean, (Saturday) the lights are going to be on. We have to be prepared to play.”
Georgetown knocked West Virginia out of the 2008 Big East tournament semifinals, but has since lost back-to-back meetings with the Mountaineers, including an 81-68 defeat in Morgantown on March 1.
That was part of West Virginia’s current five-game winning streak, but coach Bob Huggins hasn’t been thrilled with his team lately.
The Mountaineers overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to beat then-No. 9 Villanova 68-66 in overtime last Saturday, shot 35.0 percent against Cincinnati, and nearly squandered a 10-point lead in the final six minutes against the Fighting Irish.
“I’m starting to have a lot of confidence in our guys screwing up enough to let them back in the game,” Huggins said. “… I’m not very happy about it, we’re going to keep trying to fix it, but at the end of the day we’re 26-6 and playing for a Big East championship.”
Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke are the most likely No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament, but a win may put West Virginia in consideration.