Tennessee's non-conference basketball schedule was supposed to be a slow burn to Memphis on January 4, with the only possible exception a date with NC State in the finals in Puerto Rico. But just three weeks into the season, Memphis has fallen out of the Top 25, Oklahoma State went right through us and the Wolfpack en route to the Top 15, and suddenly a trip to Washington DC to face the Hoyas in the SEC/Big East Challenge has turned into a much bigger attraction: the Hoyas beat #11 UCLA, then took #1 Indiana to overtime. As a result Georgetown is ranked 20th coming into tomorrow night's showdown.
We caught up with SB Nation's Casual Hoya - you can find our answers to their excellent questions right here.
1. This team lost its three leading scorers from last year, but has looked great early on with a win over UCLA and an overtime loss to #1 Indiana. Are you surprised to see Georgetown play this well this early, or is this about what you expected?
No Hoyas fan will tell you with a straight face that he or she expected Georgetown to compete at this level so soon. However, it’s really not all that surprising if you step back and look at what John Thompson III has been able to do in similar circumstances in the past. Before last season, for example, the Hoyas lost both Austin Freeman and Chris Wright and there was a lot of doubt whether Henry Sims could even play in the Big East. Sims finally developed into the player we hoped he would be coming out of high school, Otto Porter played like a junior as a freshman, and Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson were able to provide the necessary scoring and leadership. This year the Hoyas are devoid of any senior leadership, but sophomores Porter, Greg Whittington and Mikael Hopkins have elevated their games and juniors Nate Lubick and Markel Starks have steered the ship nicely under JT3’s watch.
2. What is this basketball team's biggest strength and greatest weakness?
The biggest strength is Georgetown’s length, as the Hoyas will trot out a starting lineup with four guys 6’8" or taller. This feat is matched by only one other basketball team in the country- the Utah Jazz. The Hoyas don’t have that 6’10" or taller center, but Hopkins (6’9"), Lubick (6’8"), Porter (6’8") and Whittington (6’8") can all cause matchup difficulties for opponents from different spots on the floor.
The biggest weakness thus far has been depth. Once of the key questions heading into this season was where Georgetown would find its lost scoring from and freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had answered that emphatically in our first two games but has vanished since. JT3 has used a tight 7-man rotation so far with Smith-Rivera and sophomore Jabril Trawick as the only other players seeing real minutes. The Hoyas have a lot of size at the end of the bench in Moses Ayegba (6’10"), Bradley Hayes (6’11") and Brandon Bolden (6’11) but the latter two are freshmen who won’t likely see any action against your precious Vols.
3. Who are Georgetown's players to watch in this game?
Obviously Otto Porter tops this list as he can do just about anything from anywhere for Georgetown. Other than Porter, Whittington has really stepped up thus far and has improved his shooting from the perimeter as well as his rebounding. In the paint you can’t sleep on Mikael Hopkins or Nate Lubick, as while not always the smoothest players to watch they can be sneaky effective. And the of course there’s Markel Starks, who as the point guard was named to the All-Tournament team in The Legends Classic. So, to answer your question, pretty much everyone.
4. Georgetown made the Final Four in 2007 but hasn't made it to the Sweet 16 since then despite earning a two seed and a pair of three seeds in the last five years. Is there any pressure or unrest with John Thompson III, or are Georgetown fans generally pleased with where this program is and is going?
In JT3 We Trust. Look, any fanbase is going to be upset when a team doesn’t live up to its seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but if coaching decisions were made on that basis then Jim Boeheim would have been bounced from Syracuse long ago. If anything, this season has shown that JT3 does the most with his talent, and by employing a press on occasion and a very disruptive 2-3 zone on defense, he has adapted to the strengths of this team. The question I always ask of anyone who suggests Georgetown should go in another direction is "OK, who would you replace him with?" I am still waiting for the best answer.
5. The Big East has clearly been at or near the top of the list among college basketball conferences over the last decade. With realignment ongoing, how does a basketball-only school like Georgetown view the changing landscape of college athletics, and do you fear for the Big East's place in the college basketball hierarchy?
Hooray! A Conference Realignment question! After all the crap that has happened this week, I just don’t know what to think anymore and it’s impossible to predict what the landscape will be a couple of years down the road. What I do know is that Georgetown will likely not be able to have any impact its destiny, as being a small, hoops only school we just don’t bring any leverage to the table aside from our name, tradition and casual Hoyas gear. To that end it puts us in an odd spot, as everything is happening around us and we’re just sitting here waiting for the shoes to drop. In a perfect world I’d like to think we’d stay in the Big East and the Big East would figure out a way to regain its status as a power conference, but unfortunately it seems that world is also filled with unicorns and tooth fairies, and what is more likely to happen is that we’re shipped off to some hoops-only conference that spans the country. The future is both bleak and exciting, if that makes any sense.