- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

For the first time, Georgetown will sell out MCI Center when the Hoyas take on top-ranked Duke today in a nationally televised game.

Part of the reason for that: The No.1 Blue Devils (15-1) represent the other end of the competition spectrum for the Hoyas (11-3), who played and beat a collection of lightweights during the first two months of the season.

The last time Georgetown sold out a home game was March 2, 1996, against Villanova at US Airways Arena, and a better nonconference schedule could bring more capacity crowds. To do that, Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said he plans to play upper echelon programs every season. According to Esherick, the Hoyas have signed deals to play Big Ten schools and will participate in the Maui Classic in two years.

“We’ve signed a contract with Michigan that starts in two years, and we’re probably going to play some other high-profile teams in the next couple years also,” Esherick said. “We have to play Penn State at home next year, and that will be good. Temple comes to our place next year, and I think both of those teams are close enough that they’ll bring fans, so I think it’s important to have a couple games like that mixed in with the league that we play in.”

With the Big East expanding to a 16-team super conference in 2006 with the addition of Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida, Esherick said he will have to get a feel for the alignment before he can schedule major nonconference teams.

“That’s going to be a tough schedule in itself,” Esherick said. “I know I’m going to play one or two nonconference games that are going to be feature games like Temple and Penn State next year at home. More than that? I don’t know. I haven’t gone totally off the deep end yet.”

In addition, the Hoyas are scheduled to play in the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu along with LSU, Clemson, Southern Cal, Alabama-Birmingham, Long Beach State, Indiana State and Hawaii.

“I was watching a couple games last night, and a couple elite teams [No.[ThSp]7 North Carolina and No.12 Kansas] lost to schools they shouldn’t have,” leading scorer Gerald Riley said in defense of Georgetown’s early schedule. “Kansas lost to Richmond. Any team on any given night can pull out a victory.”

Duke brings a much-needed interest boost. Georgetown’s average attendance after 10 home games was 5,782. In Tuesday’s 71-69 win over St. John’s, 7,203 showed up — the third-largest home crowd of the season.

By playing the Blue Devils, the Hoyas can cash in on a big gate and get the kind of national exposure that helps recruiting. And if they pull an upset, they will become the talk of college basketball, at least for the weekend.

Duke’s athletic administration contacted Georgetown last month about renewing the series, but Georgetown had almost completed its schedule for next season and couldn’t fit in Duke. However, Esherick isn’t opposed to scheduling the Blue Devils in the future.

Georgetown’s players believe playing Duke brings legitimacy and creates an electric atmosphere.

“A lot of people don’t realize that we do have a tough schedule because we play Duke; we play Temple, which is always a good team; and we play in the Big East, which is one of the best conferences in the nation,” Courtland Freeman said. “This just gives us a chance to gain some respect. The student body loves it — there’s like a little buzz going on around campus. It’s definitely good for the program.”

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