In a season-opening loss to No. 19 Oregon at a U.S. Army base in South Korea, it was a dominant front court, with 6-foot-10 transfer center Joshua Smith exploding for a career-high 25 points in his Georgetown debut. In a Nov. 13 victory over Wright State at Verizon Center, it was the potent perimeter game of guards Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who combined for 48 points.
The task going forward is to forge a balanced attack, with both facets clicking at the same time, while playing the stingy defense that has been the hallmark of Coach John Thompson III’s teams since he arrived on the Hilltop a decade ago.
That will be one measuring stick at Puerto Rico Tip-off, which begins Thursday at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente. The Hoyas will play three games in four days, an ideal challenge for what Thompson describes as the process of “trying to mesh everything together.”
“This group has to evolve,” Thompson said. “We’re at the process now of trying to figure out what’s the best way for this team to win.”
The tournament features eight teams from eight conferences that reflect a range of styles and experience.
Two are ranked: No. 10 VCU (3-0), whose “havoc” brand of pressure defense upended Virginia on the Cavaliers’ home court last week, and No. 14 Michigan (2-1), the NCAA tournament runner-up last season. Should both win their opening games, they would meet Friday in a highly anticipated rematch of last season’s NCAA tournament second-round clash that Michigan won, 78-53.
Having lost two starters to the first round of the NBA draft, point guard Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Wolverines Coach John Beilein brings a younger, less cohesive bunch to the tournament. Like Thompson, he likens the event to a crash course in getting to know his reconstituted team, which fell at Iowa State, 77-70, on Sunday in preseason all-American Mitch McGary’s first game back from a back injury.
“Over those three days you’ll get a real indication, a benchmark of where you are right now,” Beilein said. “I think it will tell you a lot about your team’s toughness, your resiliency, your talent level.”
He recalled taking the Wolverines to an early-season tournament in Hawaii two years ago after they had barely squeaked past Western Illinois. Beilein braced himself for a long season, given that his offense was in the hands of a freshman point guard facing a steep learning curve.
“By the time we came back from Maui, we realized we had one of the youngest, yet toughest point guards in the country,” Beilein said.
If there’s one area where Georgetown is established, it’s at point guard, with Starks, a senior co-captain, well synced with Thompson’s wishes. Placed on the opposite side of the bracket from the tournament’s ranked teams, the Hoyas likely will face VCU or Michigan only by reaching Sunday’s championship game.
But first comes Northeastern (1-2). Georgetown (1-1) should have little trouble against last season’s Colonial Athletic Association regular season champion, whose lone victory this season is against winless Central Connecticut State. In the second round, Georgetown would face either Kansas State (2-1) or Charlotte (2-1).
Thursday’s game against Northeastern will be Georgetown’s first in eight days. The team opened the season by flying 14 hours to South Korea, then 13 hours back, to take part in the Armed Forces Classic, created and aired by ESPN. This week, it was off to Puerto Rico for another ESPN-engineered event.
“You look at the field that has been assembled down there, and no matter where you look it’s challenging,” Thompson said. “You hope to come down there and learn a little bit about your opponent, about our own team as we get ready for conference play.