- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Now the real season begins.

The young Georgetown Hoyas open the Big East portion of their schedule tonight at No.16 Pittsburgh (10-1) and should get a better idea what they can expect over the next 10 weeks.

When conference play starts, opponents are better, defenses are better and the intensity level always raises a notch. The Hoyas are in good shape after going 8-3 during their upgraded nonconference schedule, but to make the postseason they must take care of business in the Big East.

Georgetown has not had a winning record in conference play since the 2001-02 season, when the Hoyas went 9-7 in league games and 19-11 overall.

“All the teams we play now are going to be very good, all the teams we play now are going to be well-coached, all the teams we play now are going to have a good feel for our personnel and what we’re trying to accomplish,” said first-year Georgetown coach John Thompson III.

The Hoyas (8-3) have reason to be optimistic. They played No.1 Illinois to a standstill in the first half before succumbing to the Illini’s depth in a 74-59 loss Dec.9 at MCI Center.

Georgetown received a dose of tournament action when it played three games in four days at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii and came out of the prestigious tournament with a solid 2-1 record, thumping ACC member Clemson 75-60.

The Hoyas proved they can win a tight game when Norfolk State took them into overtime Dec.30 before Georgetown and leading scorer Brandon Bowman (15.8 points) ended the Spartans’ upset bid 78-70.

But are the Hoyas ready for the Big East?

“I hope we are,” Thompson said. ” I think we have progressed, and I’m regurgitating what I’ve said before — we’ve gotten better. We’re getting an understanding of what it’s going to take for our group to be successful. Are we there yet? You get better, you get better and then league play starts, and now everything is heightened and there is more of a sense of urgency with everything that is done, but we still need to get better. We just can’t stay where we are as a team.”

One area where Thompson can feel satisfied is the performance of his freshmen. Point guard Jonathan Wallace, power forward Jeff Green and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert have assimilated themselves pretty well into the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-1 Wallace is Georgetown’s best 3-point shooter, making 44 percent (20 of 45). The 6-8 Green, from Hyattsville, leads the Hoyas in rebounding (7.5), assists (2.6), blocked shots (2.0), average minutes (32.9) and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9. Hibbert is a surprisingly good free throw shooter (76 percent) for a man his size and offers a towering defensive presence in the paint.

Green has been named the Big East’s rookie of the week twice already and is tied with Connecticut phenom Rudy Gay and Rutgers forward Ollie Bailey for the most individual honors by first-year players.

Georgetown’s freshmen have played key roles thus far, and Green appears destined to be a league star for years to come.

“We need those guys,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the point when you can say, ‘Whatever you get from your freshmen is a bonus.’ We’re not at that point right now. We need them to step up and they have.”

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