This week, the men’s basketball team (1-1, 0-0 Big East) leaves the continental United States once again to face the next of their non-conference challenges. With more than a week’s rest after their win over Wright State in the season’s home opener, the Hoyas look to make their first mark on the national scene against a strong field at the Puerto Rico Tip-off.
In the tournament Georgetown will have to play three games in four days. However, even newcomer Joshua Smith is confident that the team will not be shaken by such a challenge.
“I would say, for a lot of us, we did this in AAU. You’ve got tournaments when you’ve got three, four games in a day and stuff. I think with us, it’s just gonna be being focused,” the junior center said,“So it’s not one of those where we can make the excuse for ourselves, when we’re playing four games and all other teams are playing four games, so we just gotta be focused, focused on our tendencies, and let the other teams just play the game.”
Head Coach John Thompson III looks to approach the tournament one game at a time. “Well, that, in and of itself. And the quality of the opponent. You know who your first-round matchup is, but, after that, not knowing who the opponent is, and with the short turnaround, is part of the challenge. But everyone’s in the same boat,” Thompson said.
In their first game, the Blue and Gray will face off against a struggling Northeastern squad (1-2, 0-0 CAA) which started off their season with two losses before rebounding with a win over Central Connecticut.
Though the Hoyas are 14 point favorites in the tournament opener, it is important to note that Georgetown’s slow style of play and tendency to play down to opponents makes all teams on the schedule a threat.
“Even with this loss, they have a veteran team. They have a post presence that will create a unique dilemma for us… I think they’re one of these teams where you look at every position, everywhere – backcourt, frontcourt, on the wings they’ve got guys who can make plays. And so, we’ve just got to come ready to play,” said Thompson. “They also play something you don’t see too often — they play a 3-2 defense, so they throw that at you, they keep you off balance, along with the regular 2-3, along with the regular man-to-man. But they’re not afraid to use the 3-2, which is something people don’t see too often – it’s something we, at least, don’t see too often. So, we’ve got to be ready for that.”
That being said, Georgetown boasts a significant advantage over Northeastern in the 350 pound Smith. The largest player Northeastern boasts is 6-foot-8, 219 pound Scott Eatherton, who averages 14 points per games and ten rebounds. Smith’s significant height and weight advantage at his position offers the Hoyas a strong scoring outlet down low.
“It’s just effort. I mean, like I said, watching the film, a lot of times the ball goes up and I’m watching, I’m not making contact, boxing them out, and the few times I had a rebound, it was getting hit out of my hands and it’s just being strong and making the effort to do it,” Smith said.
The keys to offensive success in the tournament will be the play of Smith in the post as well as the shooting of senior guard Markel Starks and sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. However, as always, the Hoyas will look to stout defense and a slow tempo to dominate their opponents.
“It’s defense. I mean, that’s the only thing we can control,” said Smith of the keys to winning the tournament. “You know, if we play good, if we play well in our defense when we play any team down there, you know, the offense is gonna come, we don’t know how we’re gonna play, but if we can control how we do on the defense side, it should make things a lot easier.”
More intriguing for the Hoyas, however, are their potential opponents looming in later rounds. If Georgetown can fulfill expectations and take down Northeastern, they will face the winner of Charlotte and Kansas State, two programs with notable NCAA tournament pedigrees. Charlotte has appeared in the tournament eleven times in program history, including a Final Four appearance in 1976-1977. Kansas State has participated in 27 NCAA tournaments, and are coming off a successful 29-9 campaign last season under now second-year Head Coach Bruce Weber. Both teams have struggled early, but look for a significantly tougher test in Round 2 if the Hoyas advance.
If the Hoyas are fortunate enough to make it to the tournament’s final round, they are likely to meet the best opponent they have faced all season, as No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth and No. 14 Michigan both loom on the other side of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off bracket. However, VCU and Michigan will first have to navigate past two strong contenders in Long Beach State and Florida State, who complete the eight-team field.
Action tips off this Thursday, Nov. 21, and runs through the championship game on Sunday. The Hoyas opener versus Northeastern will be this Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The game can be viewed on ESPNU.