- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

Georgetown is set to run the Big East gantlet.

In the next eight days, the 12th-ranked Hoyas (9-1) will open league play by facing the conference’s three highest-ranked teams and its top three post players.

Georgetown starts its hell week Monday night at No. 2 Connecticut (11-0), returns home for a Saturday date with No. 3 Pittsburgh (12-0) and concludes Jan. 5 at No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2) against a program featuring the nation’s second-longest homecourt winning streak (43 games).

“It certainly jumps out at you when you first get the schedule and you see: at Connecticut, Pittsburgh, at Notre Dame,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I could give you some real colorful descriptions of what I think about it, but I think I’ll just stop at calling it challenging.”

The good news is that after such a savage start, the Hoyas are likely to be favored in all but two of their remaining league games: at Marquette (Jan. 31) and at Syracuse (Feb. 14). The bad news is that Georgetown could play some pretty good basketball the next eight days and emerge with an 0-3 conference record.

“It’s definitely not the kind of schedule you want with a young team still learning how to finish games and grind out wins,” Thompson said. “But we’ve played a strong preseason schedule to try and prepare ourselves for Big East play. And we’ll figure it out.”

Though the Hoyas have played perhaps the strongest pre-Big East schedule in program history — facing Tennessee (8-2), Maryland (9-2) and Memphis (7-3) — the Hoyas have yet to face the kind of hostile environment they will encounter at Connecticut and Notre Dame. They also haven’t seen the caliber of frontcourt players they are about to face: Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet (14.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.7 blocks), Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair (14.7 points, 13.0 rebounds) and Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody (22.7 points, 12.0 rebounds).

The tallest task of the bunch comes Monday in Hartford, Conn. The Hoyas pit their young, thin frontcourt against Thabeet, the 7-foot-3, 263-pound junior sensation from Tanzania.

“I have been working a lot harder than I used to,” said Thabeet, who has developed from a raw shot-blocker as a freshman into the Huskies’ centerpiece on both ends of the floor. “Now when I go out there, I want to score everything. I know I can be unstoppable in college basketball, so the coaches keep telling me every time I get the ball three or four feet from the goal, I should try to score. And that’s what I’m doing.”

Thabeet has experienced a performance disconnect in Connecticut’s two games against ranked teams this season, averaging just 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in victories against Wisconsin and Gonzaga. But after two seasons of suffering in the post at the hands of elder statesman Roy Hibbert, Thabeet appears ready to dole out similar abuse to Georgetown freshman center Greg Monroe (12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds).

No other team in the Big East poses a more difficult matchup for Georgetown than the Huskies. Georgetown is a poor rebounding team that has only three competent big men: Monroe, junior forward DaJuan Summers and sophomore reserve Julian Vaughn. The Huskies counter with the league’s most talented set of frontcourt bangers: Thabeet, forward Jeff Adrien (14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds) and swingman Stanley Robinson.