Originally Published: March 7, 2013

Tale of two rivalries closes out the regular season

By Rece Davis | ESPN.com

Editor's note: Rece Davis is the host of "College GameDay," which will be in both Washington, D.C., for Syracuse-Georgetown and Chapel Hill, N.C., for Duke-UNC. His Saturday preview is below. Check out the video above as six of our writers preview six of the weekend's top games.

The most memorable funerals are a celebration of a life well lived. We can only hope the Syracuse-Georgetown game lives up to its illustrious history, because this is most certainly a funeral.

Syracuse's move to the ACC and the demise of the once-mighty Big East combined to bring this passion play to a close, at least in the form we've come to appreciate. The Orange and Hoyas might continue to play. They might even have a curtain call next week in Madison Square Garden, site of so many of their epic clashes. But make no mistake: when the clock strikes zero Saturday afternoon, we're losing something special.

It's the end of a rivalry that built basketball's most mighty conference over the past 30 years. John Thompson the elder said the realignment of the Big East never really bothered him until he heard Syracuse was leaving. The longtime nemesis of the Orange responded to the news by saying, "Et tu Brute."

Therein lies the complexity and the tragedy. These two bitter enemies needed each other. Now they're going their separate ways. At least no one got stabbed.

Look, I'm not one to rail against universities making business decisions. Some call conference realignment necessary progress. Financially, it probably is.

Moses Ayegba and Rakeem Christmas
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsGeorgetown's Moses Ayegba and Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas square off in the teams' first meeting in February.

But practically, progress comes with a hefty price tag. Sports aren't special because android X's and O's are adeptly deployed by master strategists. Sports aren't just television contracts and tournament bids. Sports, particularly college basketball, are most meaningful when the games are visceral and vitriolic. Syracuse and Georgetown almost cornered the market on that. Thompson closing Manley Field House or putting his figurative autograph on the dedication of Jim Boeheim Court. Pearl elbowing Ewing. Ewing swinging at Pearl.

Sherman Douglas being clutch. Charles Smith one-upping him. Gerry McNamara's cold-blooded daggers and Perry McDonald playing above his head, by literally half a foot outdueling Rony Seikaly. Melo and Mourning. Hakim and Dikembe. We could fill gigabytes and stymie the most powerful supercomputer server with moments seared into our memories.

But after Saturday, one of the most bitter, hotly contested rivalries will go the way of the two-handed set shot, at least in terms of stakes and intensity. Syracuse can play ACC classics against Carolina or Duke. Georgetown can have revamped Big East barnburners with Butler or Xavier. But it won't be the same. Because the Orange can't hate Duke the way they despise Georgetown. The Hoyas will never detest Butler the way they loathe Syracuse. There's not enough history there for a proper amount of disdain. That's the price of so-called progress.

Progress for the Hoyas would be claiming at least a share of the Big East regular-season title. It has been a while since Georgetown has had to bounce back from a loss. Villanova ended the Hoyas' 11-game winning streak and kept Georgetown from controlling its fate in terms of winning an outright title.

The Orange would love nothing better than to close this chapter of their rivalry with Georgetown by denying them a share of the Big East title. To do that, they'll have to deal with Otto Porter Jr. better than they did in the first meeting. They say it's not a one-man game, but it pretty much was in Georgetown's win at the Dome. All Hoyas not named Otto shot 20 percent and scored 24 points. Otto scored 33, shot better than 60 percent and 50 percent from 3. He dominated the game.

The Orange offense has been sporadic. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche need to assert themselves on offense. Triche has made only two of his past 18 from 3. Syracuse's offense mustered only 46 points in the first meeting. It was their worst offensive outing at home in nine years. A better showing is needed Saturday in a game that will linger in the memory much longer.

As if Duke and North Carolina needed any more juice, all of a sudden the Devils aren't done in the ACC race. Miami melted at home against Georgia Tech, meaning that should the Canes lose to Clemson, Duke could get a share of the ACC regular-season title. While both Duke and UNC are all about winning championships, beating the other is often reward enough.

Mike Krzyzewski
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeMike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams will once again square off as Duke and UNC meet for the 236th time.

For the Tar Heels it would be particularly sweet. Carolina has ripped off six straight wins since its loss at Duke. Only one game was decided by single digits in the span and that was a nine-point win at Clemson.

Roy Williams' decision to downsize his lineup has upgraded his offensive production. It wasn't so much that Williams went smaller, but by adding P.J. Hairston to the starting five, the Heels made every position an offensive threat. The formula will be put to the test against a Duke team flourishing with its own lineup change, the return of Ryan Kelly.

Kelly's impact on the offense is well documented, but his impact defensively could be even more important. In a season in which no one can hold the No. 1 ranking, it's worth noting that Duke is undefeated with Kelly in the lineup.

Those are our two "College GameDay" stops. It will be a day of nirvana for us. But there are other games to watch.

I've mentioned Miami's lack of tournament and big-game experience in the past. How will the Canes react to the disastrous loss to Georgia Tech? Can they handle lowly Clemson and win the first outright conference title in school history?

Rick Pitino and Louisville can get a share of the Big East crown by beating Notre Dame. Marquette can do the same by beating unraveling St. John's. Kansas State can get a share of the Big 12 by beating Oklahoma State.

The tournament is the litmus test of legitimacy in college basketball. But the perseverance and excellence needed to win a regular-season title shouldn't be dismissed regardless of whether a team makes a run or flames out in the tournament, which is now less than two weeks away.

POY chase comes down to the stretch run

By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com

This conversation seemed improbable, at best, two months ago when conference play started.

Did the player of the year race look wide open? Sure -- and at the time, it was. The candidates, though, have gone through an almost complete overhaul.

Faded away are Indiana's Cody Zeller and Duke's Mason Plumlee, the preseason player of the year and the leader of the first player of the year straw poll, respectively. Inserted in their place is a group which has risen from almost unknown to part of a five-player free-for-all in the final weeks of the regular season to nab at least one of the four major player of the year awards.

Such is the way of Georgetown's Otto Porter, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and Indiana's Victor Oladipo, none of whom entered the conversation until the beginning of February.

Over the past month, they have joined Michigan's Trey Burke, the leader for the third consecutive poll, and Creighton's Doug McDermott in this five spot of talented and diverse players.

Oladipo made a strong entry into the race in the third poll of the season after three straight standout performances -- including one against Burke and Michigan on Feb. 2 -- from the end of January to early February. Olynyk also received votes for the first time in that poll.

Two weeks later, Olynyk made a move to fifth place; Porter started receiving votes for the first time in the Feb. 21 edition. The past two weeks, though, have seen a surge of attention for Porter, who received two third-place votes in the previous poll.

Two days later, he scored 33 points on national television against Syracuse and followed that up four days later with 22 points and a game winner in double overtime against Connecticut. Porter now sits in second place in the latest poll, behind Burke.

How will this shake out?

Tough to say, in part due to the way this season has gone -- with insanity taking over more often than not. Add in the component of staggered deadlines for the various award votes, and it is anyone's for the taking.

The Robertson Award, given out by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, requires its ballots be submitted by Sunday evening. The Associated Press wants its ballots on Selection Sunday. The Wooden Award wants ballots by March 25, after the first weekend of NCAA tournament games, and the Naismith Award has the latest deadline -- April 6, the Saturday of Final Four weekend.

What can happen between now and then? A lot. Just look at Porter.

To read how 64 actual POY voters from around the country voted in this week's straw poll, click here.