- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

When Georgetown opens Big East play today against Rutgers at MCI Center, it could prove to be both a milestone and benchmark game.

Coach Craig Esherick will be looking for his 100th career win and the Hoyas hope to gain respect after what many college basketball observers deem as a soft non-conference schedule.

For Esherick (99-59), the personal accomplishment means little as he tries to lead the Hoyas (9-0) back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.

“If it was No.300 or 400, it would have more significance to me than 100,” Esherick said. “It’s not something that was on my priority list to start the season. I wouldn’t have got to 100 without some pretty darn good players and coaches.”

Meanwhile, Esherick defends his early-season schedule as a natural progression into the nightly Big East wars, especially with a predominantly young team.

“Before we played The Citadel, you ratchet up the competition level and then ratchet up the competition level a little more,” said Esherick, whose team is off to its best start in the last three seasons. “These [Big East] teams are far more familiar with us. That [non-conference slate] was good.”

Despite the questionable non-conference schedule, the Hoyas did what they were supposed to do against inferior opponents — they blew them out. The Hoyas won their nine games by an average of 20.7 points. However, the 7-2 Scarlet Knights should prove a worthy opponent.

Esherick, who is in the middle of his fifth full season at Georgetown, has a better winning percentage (62.6 percent) than John Thompson, Georgetown’s Hall of Fame coach, had after his first five seasons. Thompson went 83-53 (61 percent) from 1972 to 1977.

Where Esherick needs to make some inroads is in the Big East. He is 42-46 in league play and that is why today’s game is so important. Under him, the Hoyas have posted only two winning seasons in conference play. Esherick’s only NCAA tournament team, the 2000-01 squad that finished 25-8, went 10-6 in the conference. A year later the Hoyas compiled a 9-7 conference record but didn’t receive an NCAA berth after finishing 19-11.

This season Esherick has displayed an ability to adapt to his talent. Without a post scorer, which has been a Georgetown trademark for decades, Esherick adopted more of a run-and-gun style with this team. They press and shoot from the perimeter.

The Hoyas’ strength lies in the backcourt with senior shooter Gerald Riley (19.4 points), 6-foot-8 power forward Brandon Bowman (16.2 points), who is really a wing player, 6-6 swingman Darrel Owens (10.6 points), and point guard Ashanti Cook (9.2 points, 4.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds).

The wide-open floor game is a departure from the halfcourt, bang-it-inside style the Hoyas have used in years past. However, that’s the way the Hoyas plan to do battle in the Big East.

“We’re going to do the things that we’ve been doing, take advantage of the 3-pointer and fullcourt pressure defense,” Esherick said.

Elsewhere, Hoyas senior reserve swingman RaMell Ross is out for the remainder of the season with right shoulder injury that will require surgery. The oft-injured Ross, who played at Lake Braddock High, will be eligible next season as a fifth-year senior. Ross sat out his sophomore season with a foot injury and was redshirted.


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