There's one game left for the Big East in its current form, and Syracuse is looking to close the door on a celebrated era with another tournament championship.
Louisville would like to spoil the Orange's party by becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles in seven years.
No. 19 Syracuse and the fourth-ranked Cardinals take the court against each other as Big East rivals for the final time with the conference championship at stake in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The Orange (26-8) were one of the founding members of the Big East in 1980, and a big reason it has been one of the most competitive conferences in basketball, appearing in 14 tournament finals while winning six, most recently back-to-back in 2005 and '06.
This will be their last game under the banner since they're moving to the ACC in an exodus that will change the face of the Big East.
"This is just to do with football. You know that. It's just where everything is going," coach Jim Boeheim said when asked why the school would walk away from the conference. "Just wait a few more years. Everything will be gone."
That will eventually include Louisville (28-5), which is headed for the ACC in 2014.
Before the changes, Syracuse will try to claim one last title at MSG after ousting fifth-ranked and top-seeded Georgetown 58-55 in overtime in the semifinals. The Orange also eliminated Seton Hall and No. 17 Pittsburgh, another defector to the ACC next season.
"This is big time, the Big East Tournament, and we're here and ready to play," said forward James Southerland, who is averaging 17.7 points on 56.3 percent shooting during the tournament.
Southerland, a native of the Bayside neighborhood of New York, has been particularly impressive from behind the arc, pouring in 16 of 25 shots to match the tournament record set by Syracuse's Gerry McNamara - currently one of Boeheim's assistants.
Strong defensive play has been key in the past two games - Syracuse has yielded an average of 57.0 points on 37.6 percent shooting. including 27.0 from long range.
The offense, though, struggled in a 58-53 home loss to Louisville on March 2, shooting 35.7 percent. They had knocked the Cardinals from the No. 1 spot with a 70-68 win on Jan. 19.
The Cardinals won 76-66 over Syracuse to claim their first tournament championship in 2009. They've been back twice since, beating Cincinnati last year, and are bidding to repeat on the strength of a nine-game winning streak.
The team has hit 17 of 38 shots from beyond the arc in two wins to reach the final, eliminating Villanova 74-55 on Thursday and posting a 69-57 win over No. 24 Notre Dame, also on its way to the ACC, on Friday.
"It's very exciting to be in another final game, especially the last year of existence in the Big East," said coach Rick Pitino, a New York native who was an assistant under Boeheim from 1976-78. "So we're very excited."
Peyton Siva became Louisville's career steals leader with seven on Friday, giving him 236 to pass one of the school's legendary players, "Dr. Dunkenstein" Darrell Griffith.
"People keep telling me not to back up and keep running aggressive and that's what I try to do," said the senior guard, who has 22 points, 10 assists and 10 steals in the tournament.
Siva has struggled in seven meetings against the Orange's 2-3 zone, averaging 3.7 points on 23.1 percent shooting - 3 for 24 from long range. He missed all nine of his shots, including eight from behind the arc, and was scoreless in the latest matchup.
Russ Smith has been much better, totaling 43 points against Syracuse this season. The junior guard from Brooklyn has been impressive over the past two victories, making 15 of 26 shots and totaling 48 points.
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