A season of change for the Georgetown men's basketball team begins tonight at MCI Center with yet another one: The Hoyas, who have grown accustomed to opening their season against teams like Grambling State or Marymount, will host Temple.
Rather than facing an overmatched opponent from a small conference (or an entirely different NCAA division), Georgetown -- which has a new coach and only three players with substantial college experience -- will take on the Owls, with their vaunted matchup zone and their Hall of Fame coach, John Chaney. Is this a good or a bad thing for a team with so many new faces?
"As we get closer to game time, I'm wondering the same thing," joked John Thompson III, who will be coaching his first game as the head of the Georgetown program that his father, John Thompson Jr., made famous.
Three starters are back from last season's team that finished 13-15 and ranked second-to-last in the Big East in both field goal percentage (.410) and rebounding margin (-3.1). The Hoyas lost, 59-53, at Temple last February, part of a nine-game losing streak to end the season.
Georgetown no longer has guard Gerald Riley, a four-year starter who accounted for a quarter of the Hoyas' points last season (17 points per game), and center Courtland Freeman, a three-year captain and experienced inside presence. Guard Matt Causey, who developed into Georgetown's top back-court reserve toward the end of his freshman season, transferred to North Georgia College and State University over the summer.
The Hoyas are left with just three players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game: junior forward Brandon Bowman, who averaged 15.9 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds; junior guard Ashanti Cook, who averaged 9.2 points and a team-high 3.8 assists; and senior swingman Darrel Owens, who averaged 8.1 points on a team-best 49.7 percent shooting.
Sophomore guard Ray Reed (4 ppg), who was sidelined for the early part of preseason with a broken bone in his foot, is the only other player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game. Junior forward Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw and sophomore forward Sead Dizdarevic are the only front-court reserves with any Big East experience.
Of the five freshmen who joined the Hoyas, 6-foot-8 forward Jeff Green appears to be the one who will make the biggest immediate contribution. Green averaged 19.4 points and 14 rebounds as he led Northwestern to the Maryland 4A title last season and was named an All-Met.
"We're going to depend on Jeff a lot," Thompson said. "He's a lot like Brandon in that he is capable of playing just about every position. . . . We're going to need him at different points of the year to do everything that he can do."
Thompson said on Friday that he had not settled on a starting lineup yet, and that the starters could change throughout the season depending on matchups.
"The composition of this team is such that there is no set rotation," Thompson said. "A lot of times with a veteran team, a coach has in his head what Billy can do and what Bobby can't do. The makeup of our team is such that everyone is going to have a shot to contribute, and everyone will have to contribute in order for us to be successful."
Georgetown has been criticized in the past for its soft November and December schedule. The Hoyas again will face Norfolk State and Howard before their Big East opener at Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, but they will also host No. 6 Illinois on Dec. 9 and face Oral Roberts, the favorite to win the Mid-Continent Conference, in the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.
The Hoyas sailed through their pre-Big East schedule last season, winning nine games against the likes of Coastal Carolina, the Citadel and Elon by an average margin of 20.7 points, only to struggle once conference play began. At Big East media day last month, Bowman had to listen to players from other schools talk about the Hoyas' schedule and wonder who Georgetown was going to play this year.
"It was humor, but I didn't want to hear that," Bowman said. "Our schedule is a lot stronger than last year. We have to prove ourselves from jump street. I figure everyone wants to see how Coach Thompson does. We are a reflection of Coach Thompson, I think. For the program, we want to win just as bad."