- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

Georgetown's three most impressive Big East victories share a somewhat disconcerting thread.
When the Hoyas (14-7, 5-4 Big East) hammered Boston College at Conte Forum a month ago, the Eagles played most of the game without second-leading scorer Ryan Sidney. When they disgraced Syracuse on national TV, Orangemen gunner Preston Shumpert (scratched cornea) could barely see, much less shoot. And when they handed Notre Dame its only double-digit loss of the season in South Bend on Jan. 21, Irish pounder Harold Swanagan watched from the bench in street clothes.
Granted, Georgetown's average margin of victory in those three games was 17.3 points. But that doesn't completely negate the perception that the Hoyas have flattened some wounded foes this season.
Now Swanagan is back. The Irish have won four straight. And when Notre Dame (16-6, 6-3) takes the floor against Georgetown today at MCI Center, the Hoyas finally will have an opportunity to prove they can handle a quality Big East opponent armed with its full complement of weapons.
"Swanagan definitely changes the complexion of this game, because he does a lot of really good things for them that don't always show up in the statistics but jump out at you on film," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said of Notre Dame's 6-foot-7, 252-pound forward. "He does a really good job of defending the post, setting screens, rebounding, and he provides some leadership. Clearly, they are going to be a better team than they were in South Bend."
Without Swanagan (7.2 rebounds) crashing the glass, Georgetown mauled the Irish on the boards (51-35) in their first meeting. And without Swanagan occupying defenders in the post and freeing his teammates up with jaw-jarring screens, Georgetown was able to extend its defense and hold Notre Dame to its worst shooting performance by far in conference play this season (4-for-21 from behind the arc).
"I have always said he is the most valuable player on our team, without a doubt," Irish senior co-captain David Graves said of Swanagan, who missed three games in the middle of the season with a severely sprained ankle. "He does all the little things nobody else wants to do and most people don't notice."
It will be impossible not to notice Swanagan today because he will draw his toughest defensive assignment of the season on Georgetown power forward Mike Sweetney (19 points, 9.8 rebounds). Without the beefy Swanagan in his way, the 6-8, 260-pound Sweetney torched the Irish for 21 points and 16 rebounds in South Bend.
"Swanagan certainly makes them a tougher defensive team inside, so Mike is going to have to play patient and smart," Esherick said. "He's done a great job all season drawing double teams and then finding the open man. And we've been much better recently at converting those opportunities.
"I'm very comfortable with this team offensively, and we finally have everybody rebounding. We've won two straight, and this game really gives us a chance to develop some consistency as we head down the stretch."
Note Georgetown still has one scholarship left for next season, and some fans have wondered whether Esherick will use it to sign another point guard to help compensate for graduating captain Kevin Braswell.
"My thinking right now is that I'd like to save that other scholarship for the next season," Esherick said. "Obviously, if somebody pops up who we just can't say no to at any position, that might change my thinking. But there aren't a lot of guys like that left out there.
"I think next year we have plenty of people who can play the point. Aside from Drew [Hall], we'll have four other guys who can help out at that spot. Trenton Hillier will be a senior, plus RaMell [Ross], Tony [Bethel] and Darrell Owens can play point guard."



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