This is uncharted water for Georgetown. Not Hawaii, where the Hoyas will face No. 12 Kansas on Monday in the Maui Invitational — they played in this tournament in 1999.
For one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball, the role of underdog is a strange fit, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the Hoyas are going to run the table on the islands.
A plethora of inexperience and a dearth of star power have left Georgetown (2-0) out of most discussions regarding the Big East’s best and even behind George Mason when it comes to poll voting.
So traveling to Hawaii and facing this loaded field, which also includes Duke, Memphis, UCLA and Michigan, represents a unique opportunity for these Hoyas to make a name for themselves by playing spoiler.
“We’re underdogs. We have nothing to lose,” senior guard Jason Clark said. “We’re not ranked, so we don’t have the target on our back that we usually have. Now, we’re just going after guys, and I think that’s going to be good for our team because no one likes to be told they aren’t good.”
Georgetown represents something of an unknown quantity in Maui, with talented freshmen such as Otto Porter and Greg Whittington supplementing standouts such as Clark and forward Hollis Thompson. The talent is there, but even coach John Thompson III still is working on making it all come together.
“We have a long way to go,” Thompson III said before the team left for Hawaii. “The last couple of days has been more about our growth and us getting better more so than it is about Kansas. We’re so young - so much has to go into us.”
In victories over Savannah State and UNC Greensboro, the Hoyas showed plenty of promise, as center Henry Sims had a career day, the vaunted freshman received valuable minutes and the team’s defense proved stifling.
Against Kansas, however, Georgetown will step up in weight class and find out how it stacks up against name-brand competition.
“Through the first two games, we’ve gone about things the way I would have expected,” Thompson III said. “Now, we enter a whole different realm, a whole different level. You look at our schedule and break down the season and this is an early checkpoint to see where you stand.”
One important matchup with the Jayhawks will be at guard, where sophomore point guard Markel Starks will be the ‘X’ factor in a quartet of well-known ballhandlers, including his backcourt mate Clark and Kansas standouts Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson.
“Everybody wants to know how we’re going to play Kansas, and especially, there’s a question about me,” Starks said. “Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, all these big-time names. Well, they are just names. We want them and are ready for the challenge. That’s a big stage out in Maui. This is a tournament that makes or breaks you.”
The Hoyas have showed an increased defensive intensity to start the season, and their size has played a major factor in disrupting their opponents’ offensive sets. Against the Jayhawks, however, that advantage will be neutralized somewhat by the inside presence of 6-foot-10 forward Thomas Robinson, a D.C. native.
“He’s pretty good,” Thompson III said with a laugh. “He’s pretty aggressive and a physical presence. As with most things, it has to be a group effort. We’ll see.”
While the Hoyas want to acquit themselves well in one of college basketball’s premier tournaments, there’s no master plan for what constitutes a successful trip.