- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

When the two teams at opposite ends of the Big East standings meet tonight at Verizon Center, the only competitive drama is likely to come from the game’s matchup in the middle.

South Florida staggers into the District to face No. 6 Georgetown (18-2, 8-1 Big East) fresh off a 14-point home loss to lowly St. John’s. The Bulls (10-12, 1-8) haven’t won in more than a month and can claim to have pushed only one opponent during that stretch, absorbing seven double-digit losses during their eight-game skein.

The Hoyas, on the other hand, boast a five-game winning streak, haven’t lost at home in more than a year (an 18-game run), lead the Big East by the equivalent of two games (owning the tiebreaker over Notre Dame) and are attempting to match the third-best start in school history tonight.

From a competitive standpoint, this certainly doesn’t look like basketball’s version of Super Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of basketball to be played,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said Saturday after the Hoyas reached an 8-1 league mark for the first time since 1989. “What we have to do, and we are doing it, is continue to get better. This league is brutal. This league is volatile. This league does not allow you the luxury of looking around to see where you stand. You better just prepare your behind off for the next game.”

So as anticipation grows for Georgetown’s Saturday showdown at Louisville, Thompson and Co. try to remain focused on South Florida.

Maintaining that concentration shouldn’t be difficult for Georgetown centerpiece Roy Hibbert, who has looked forward to facing the Bulls all season. For the preseason All-American, South Florida offers a rare challenge: the chance to face a similarly sized and skilled center in 6-foot-9, 270-pound Kentrell Gransberry.

“There aren’t too many guys in the league with my size,” said the 7-2, 283-pound Hibbert, who is averaging 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in Big East play. “So, yeah, I always relish the opportunity to play against guys like [Connecticut 7-footer Hasheem] Thabeet and the other true pivots in this league. I’ve never gone up against [Gransberry], so that should be interesting.”

Unlike Hibbert, who routinely circulates around the floor in Thompson’s Princeton-based offense and has even made both of his 3-point attempts this season, Gransberry is a classic paint pivot who leads the conference in rebounding (10.8) for the second consecutive season and ranks among its top 10 in scoring (16.7 points).

Expect Hibbert, surging reserve center Vernon Macklin and even 6-8 forward Patrick Ewing Jr. to tussle underneath tonight with Gransberry.

After a slow start, the 6-9 Macklin has totaled 23 points and seven rebounds in the last two games despite playing 18 minutes a game.

Ewing has been stellar since yielding his starting spot to freshman Austin Freeman and returning to last season’s role as the squad’s energetic sixth man. Ewing scored a career-high 16 points in Saturday’s 73-61 victory over Seton Hall and has been pivotal in the team’s recent reversal of its rebounding woes.

“This is the tougher half of our schedule,” Ewing said of the nine remaining Big East games. “Teams are coming at you now [as the league leader], so you’ve got to keep your guard up.”

Today’s game

SOUTH FLORIDA (10-12, 1-8 Big East) AT NO. 6 GEORGETOWN (18-2, 8-1)

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/ radio: MASN, AM-570

Outlook: If last week’s mismatch between Georgetown and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden is any barometer, tonight’s game probably deserves some sort of viewer discretion warning. After all, the Red Storm, who were humiliated by the Hoyas on Wednesday, spent the weekend sentencing South Florida to the Big East cellar. … South Florida has not won a game in more than a month, dropping eight straight Big East games, seven by double-digit margins. The Bulls are the only team in the conference to rank beneath Georgetown in all 15 of the league’s primary statistical categories. Perhaps the center matchup between Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert and 6-foot-9, 270-pound South Florida senior Kentrell Gransberry (16.7 points, 10.8 rebounds) will generate some drama.

Barker Davis

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