Grind about to begin for Hoyas in Big East farewell

Marquette is first up on conference slate

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In a few years, the Big East as we know it will be the stuff of legend, with tales told about John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca patrolling the sidelines of a once-proud basketball conference lost amid the shifting tectonic plates of college athletics.

For now, however, the Big East is still a very real entity, and even in its death rattle, it promises to be a formidable test for an unproven Georgetown team.

Saturday marks the conference opener for the No. 15 Hoyas, who have won 10 of 11 to start the season, largely building their lofty reputation by knocking off UCLA and losing to then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime during the team’s trip to New York in November.

Tipping off this sure-to-be-unique Big East campaign on the road against always-difficult Marquette (9-3) figures to be the test the Hoyas haven’t really received since that Nov. 20 defeat to the Hoosiers.

Georgetown has won seven straight since then but hasn’t played since its 65-48 victory over American on Dec. 22.

“It’s very important to keep the momentum up,” sophomore forward Otto Porter said. “You don’t want to go into the Big East dead — you want to go in with confidence and playing to your best capabilities.”

Georgetown coach John Thompson III acknowledged there might be kinks to work out with the long layoff.

“It’s not by design, to be honest with you,” he said. “Every other year, we have a Big East game between Christmas and New Year’s, and we had anticipated having a Big East game between Christmas and New Year’s, and the schedule comes out and we don’t, and it’s hard to fill it in at that late date.

“If you look around the country, a lot of people at this time of the year get big breaks, so we’ll be OK. They push each other in practice as hard as anyone.”

The Hoyas haven’t been a consistent powerhouse through their nonconference schedule, but they have shown flashes that make them as dangerous in the league.

Porter has been an across-the-board producer, averaging 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists to lead Georgetown in all those categories. He’s also shooting higher than 50 percent from the floor.

Fellow sophomore Greg Whittington gives the Hoyas an at-times prolific scorer, capable of driving hard to the basket and filling the hole from behind the arc. Nate Lubick has been a solid post presence, and his veteran leadership and pinpoint passing will help Georgetown’s offense against lockdown Big East defenses.

Still, there are nagging questions about the offense, especially against some of the high-flying teams in the conference, and their youth, especially in tough road environments.

“None of us in that locker room are sitting there with our heads in the sand saying we’re playing perfect basketball,” Thompson said after the American game. “We all realize there are so many areas of the game — every aspect of the game — that we can get better at.”

Big East play usually brings out the best in the Hoyas, and this year they are eager to prove their worth against their conference brethren.

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