Again flying under the national radar, Georgetown is hoping to add to the buzz building in Brooklyn.
The young Hoyas will get their biggest test of the early season when they travel to New York for the Legends Classic semifinals at the new Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and site of a gaggle of preconference tournaments designed to show off the arena.
“Jay-Z is my favorite rapper, so this is big for me,” guard Markel Starks said in reference to one of the Nets’ owners.
Georgetown (2-0) opens against No. 13 UCLA on Monday night and will either play No. 1 Indiana or Georgia on Tuesday on national TV — a distinct step up in competition and exposure from their first two contests, against Duquesne and Liberty, affairs in which the Hoyas showed their inexperience by struggling for stretches.
“It should be really cool,” forward Nate Lubick said. “I’ve heard nothing but unbelievable things about the new arena and to be able to play in important games early on will be a great test for our guys.”
Most pundits don’t give Georgetown much of a chance against the Bruins, who received a huge boost to their already talented lineup last Friday when the NCAA cleared freshman recruit Shabazz Muhammad after his family agreed to repay impermissible benefits given to him by a family friend.
“He adds a whole new dimension — no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. “He’s very, very good and very, very talented and plays as hard as anyone I’ve seen.”
The situation is eerily similar to last year, when the unheralded Hoyas traveled to Hawaii for the Maui Classic against a highly ranked Kansas squad. Even though the Hoyas dropped a 67-63 decision, the game gave Georgetown a major confidence boost going forward.
“I think we kind of shaped our team a little bit after that game,” Lubick said. “We’re going [there] to win. We didn’t win that Kansas game, and that would have been a huge step for our season, which ended up being OK.”
A win, and the Hoyas get a shot at the top-ranked Hoosiers. But even with a loss, the experience of playing back-to-back nights against quality opponents will be key for a team still trying to find its way.
“It’s a challenge, it’s an obstacle, and we have to go through it,” he said. “I think it will prepare us for later, for the Big East tournament. You have to go through it.”
The Hoyas hope to get a boost from the return of sophomore forward Otto Porter, who missed the Liberty game with concussion-like symptoms. Georgetown will need Porter’s offensive presence and rebounding ability against a formidable UCLA front line that features six players 6-foot-9 or taller.
“They’re a big team. We can’t simulate that,” Thompson said. “They’re going to pose problems.”
Georgetown hasn’t been as sharp as Thompson would like during the first two games, with defensive lapses and offensive struggles giving their opponents hope. Thompson expects his unit to be on a higher intensity level on the national stage.
“The players, the coaches, the fans, probably the people covering the team get excited about these games,” he said. “They’re worked up. They’re excited. Does that necessarily mean we’re going to be sharper? I hope so. We’ll see once we get there.”