The more significant number may be four: As in, days until tip-off.
At the moment, No. 11 Georgetown (19-4, 9-3) and No. 8 Syracuse (21-4, 9-3) are tied for the lead in the conference standings, along with Marquette, only ratcheting up the stakes of Saturday’s clash.
But the Hoyas have a game to play before then, hosting DePaul (11-14, 2-10) on Wednesday at Verizon Center. As they gathered for practice at McDonough Arena on Tuesday afternoon, the Hoyas seemed well aware of the peril of taking DePaul for granted in the run-up to the first of their two scheduled clashes with Syracuse this season, the last for the Orange as a member of the conference it helped found.
“It’s easy to look down the road,” junior guard Markel Starks conceded, “but [Wednesday] is a big game. Nobody is invincible. Normally, there are always one or two teams that are just dominant. In college basketball this year, there’s no team that is completely dominant. Anybody can be beat. We’re definitely going into this game focused.”
Coach John Thompson III put it more bluntly.
“This group understands we don’t have enough margin for error to start overlooking anyone,” Thompson said, pointing to the current Big East standings. Yes, Georgetown is at the top. But the coach’s larger point was that Georgetown had lost a game earlier this season to the last-place team (South Florida).
The 61-58 defeat at South Florida on Jan. 19 is the one bad loss on the Hoyas’ résumé. If it served the purpose of keeping the Hoyas grounded for the rest of the season, it was a valuable experience.
Projected to finish sixth in the 15-team Big East, Georgetown has already exceeded expectations and is in the midst of a league-leading seven-game winning streak. However, there’s little evidence that the streak has given them a false sense of their abilities.
By all accounts, players continue to work hard in practice.
Junior forward Nate Lubick, who has been a rock at both ends of the court, sported a swollen, blood-red lower lip Tuesday, the result of heavy contact during practice from teammate Jabril Trawick. It didn’t hurt as bad as the stitches Lubick got in his chin in the locker room immediately after the Hoyas’ 62-55 come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati on Friday, earned with virtually every player of consequence saddled with four fouls.
The precarious nature of that game revealed a strength of the Hoyas: They compensate for one another in times of trouble.
Said sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr.: “As a team, we play for each other. If somebody gets in foul trouble, somebody else picks up the slack. That’s why we’ve been winning. We’re playing great together. Everybody has the mind-set of winning on this team, and it shows.”
It doesn’t hurt that Porter, Georgetown’s best player, exudes no sense of arrogance or entitlement despite leading the team during conference play in points (17.1 per game), rebounds (8.0 per game), steals (18), free throw shooting percentage (81.5) and three-point field-goal percentage (45.0).
Porter works harder than anyone — in games, during practice, and even crouched on the sideline at midcourt waiting to enter games, where he’s known to coach and urge his teammates with the same vigor as Thompson.
“Otto has his own edge about him,” said freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
“He just has that vibe you get from him, that he’s going to demand your attention.”