Georgetown coach John Thompson III has little reason to worry that his team will head into its rematch against Memphis feeling superior.
“It was an overtime game that we had to get a put-back at the last second to send to overtime, so I don’t think there are any thoughts of overconfidence,” he said, referring the Hoyas’ 91-88 upset of then-No. 8 Memphis at the Maui Invitational on Nov. 23.
“We know we escaped by the skin of our teeth.”
In a unique scheduling quirk, the Hoyas will face the Tigers again Thursday at Verizon Center in the final non-conference tuneup before Big East play starts Dec. 28 against Louisville.
Since the formation of the Big East, this marks the first time Georgetown has played a non-league opponent twice in one season since the 1979-80 campaign, when it played Maryland and Iona in the regular season and the NCAA tournament. It’s the first time the Hoyas have played a non-league team twice in the regular season since 1968-69, when they did it against George Washington.
“In a perfect world, we would not have met them in Maui,” Thompson III said. “I’d rather not face a non-conference team twice. They’ve gotten a taste of what we try to do, and we’ve gotten a taste of what they try to do. You deal with that enough in conference.”
The Hoyas’ performance in that taut, back-and-forth victory in Hawaii — coming off a tough loss to Kansas two days before — showed that this young squad had the ability to compete against power teams in pressure situations.
“It was really fun. I love those type of games,” senior guard Jason Clark said. “We were up, they would make a run, we would make a run. I liked everybody’s performance in that game. It’s a game of runs, and we know that we can’t get rattled.”
Both teams’ fortunes were altered by that contest. Georgetown (9-1) is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak that has lifted the Hoyas to No. 16 in the AP and coaches’ polls. Memphis (6-4) has fallen out of the Top 25 after back-to-back losses to Murray State and Louisville.
But the Tigers are an electric team with top-tier talent oozing from every position. In fact, Thompson III thinks Memphis is a much stronger team now than during the initial matchup.
“They’ve had a very difficult schedule,” he said. “Throw the record out the window — they are playing well right now. I think they are playing better than they were over in Maui.”
The Tigers are averaging 82.1 points, 11th in the NCAA, and are 28th in the nation with a 48.7 field goal percentage. Sophomore guard Will Barton is averaging 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds to key an attack predicated on the fast break.
“As long as we don’t get in a track meet with them, we’ll be OK,” sophomore guard Markel Starks said.
The Hoyas struggled at times on transition defense in the first game, as Barton and backcourt mate Joe Jackson combined for 42 points. Thompson said his team wasn’t going to be able to completely shut down Memphis’ speed but that the Hoyas would rely on a strong defensive presence.
“You’re not going to slow them down,” he said. “That’s what they do, and they are very good at it. It’s not a question of slowing them down; hopefully, you can just be back there waiting for them.”
After a non-conference slate filled with lower-tier opponents such as NJIT and IUPUI, the Hoyas are finishing with a bang — albeit a familiar one — before the rugged Big East.
“I would definitely have this game last,” Clark said. “It’s a huge test. The games from here on out are going to be just like this one.”