Hoyas prep for Maui Invitational

November 17, 2011

This year’s men’s basketball recruiting class got a leg up on the nation’s other freshmen by playing several exhibitions in China during the summer. Now, as the Hoyas prepare to traverse the Pacific once again, the readiness of the freshmen may determine whether the trip is a success.

Georgetown (2-0) will travel to Hawaii over the weekend to play in the Maui Invitational. The Hoyas will play three games in three days, the first against No. 12 Kansas on Monday.

The Hoyas’ involvement in the tournament actually kicked off at home on the mainland this past Monday night, when Georgetown won its “opening round” game against UNC Greensboro, 86-45.

The blowout enabled the newcomers to gain plenty of in-game experience ahead of next week’s tests. The Hoyas’ five true freshmen completely subdued the Spartans in the second half, as the starters rested having opened up the early lead.

“Obviously the trip they took this summer [to China] was really rewarding,” UNC Greensboro head coach Mike Dement said. “The guys that were young are not really young anymore because they had that experience.”

Subsequently, the Hoya freshmen were not just confined to mop-up duty. Forwards Otto Porter and Greg Whittington have been the first players off the bench in both of the Hoyas’ games, while fellow freshmen Mikael Hopkins and Jabril Trawick have also seen meaningful minutes.

“They’re going to play extended minutes,” head coach John Thompson III said of the freshmen. “And that’s probably going to be regardless of who the opponent is.”

Besides Kansas, the field in Maui features No. 6 Duke, No. 10 Memphis, and No. 17 Michigan. Rounding out the tourney are Tennessee and UCLA, along with Division II Chaminade, the host school.

Kansas will be looking to bounce back against the Blue and Grey after a disappointing loss to No. 2 Kentucky this week. But the Hoyas would have had their hands full even if the Jayhawks didn’t have the extra motivation, facing the dynamic duo of senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor and junior forward Thomas Robinson, a potential NBA lottery pick.

Though Georgetown lacks the Jayhawks’ star-power, the Hoyas challenge Kansas with their newfound depth. If the freshmen can effectively spell the starting five in Maui, Georgetown may be able to wear down their opponents and force turnovers like they have so far this season (38 turnovers through two games). Thompson III said being able to go eight or nine deep is a luxury he’s going to take advantage of.

“We’re going to have a lot of different combinations. It’s not like we’re going to have a set core necessarily,” Thompson said. “A lot of that’s because of our versatility across the board. Different people are going to play different positions with different groups.”

A successful run in Maui could  set the tone for the season and thrust the Hoyas into the national conversation (as was the case for defending national champion Connecticut, the 2010 Maui champion). Coming back without a signature win, on the other hand, would be a clear sign that this young Georgetown team still has to develop before contemplating a national ranking.

The Hoyas’ upperclassmen, however, think that their younger teammates are ready to play now.

“I think we’ve got a solid group of guys all around,” junior forward Hollis Thompson said. “They’re ready to come in and contribute immediately, and I think that makes a big difference to us being a good team.”

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