Georgetown opens its men’s basketball season 7,000 miles from home Friday night, taking on No. 19 Oregon at a U.S. Army base in South Korea. Maryland, meantime, tips off in Brooklyn, N.Y., against 18th-ranked Connecticut.
While fans of both teams may lament the out-of-town openings, they won’t have trouble following the action on TV, with the games showcased on ESPN and ESPN2, respectively.
It was much the same on college basketball’s opening night last November. Then NBC Sports Network aired Georgetown’s game against 10th-ranked Florida aboard the USS Bataan, a contest that was aborted at halftime because of condensation on the court, and ESPN broadcast Maryland’s clash with reigning NCAA champion Kentucky, the first college contest staged at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
That amounts to a high-wattage showcase, now two years running, for a pair of unranked teams that haven’t made much of a ripple in the postseason of late. Georgetown hasn’t advanced past the NCAA tournament’s first weekend since 2007; Maryland has missed the tournament altogether the last three years.
But Georgetown and Maryland continue to earn their national airtime because of their coaches’ tough-nosed approach to scheduling ranked opponents.
“Both of these head coaches are willing to embrace playing quality games right out of the gate,” said Nick Dawson, ESPN’s senior director of programming and acquisitions. “You don’t see too many programs willing to take on the level of competition these two are on opening night. That makes them attractive for TV.”
It’s also a plus that both schools boast NCAA championships and represent strong basketball conferences with ardent followings.
“Obviously the two programs have great tradition, history and fan bases,” Dawson added, “so putting them on national TV is certainly a plus for us.”
The Hoyas are coming off a confounding 25-7 season in which they reeled off 11 consecutive victories despite losing their second-leading scorer, Greg Whittington, to an academic suspension; won a share of the Big East regular season title; and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, only to get clobbered in their opening game by 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
Despite returning four starters from a team that finished the year ranked No. 8, Georgetown isn’t ranked in the 2013-14 preseason poll — a snub that suggests the regard in which its lone non-returning starter, first-team all-American Otto Porter Jr., is held.
Coach John Thompson III has compiled a schedule that will test his Hoyas early and often. Oregon, which will be without starting point guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter for Friday’s game, is one of three ranked nonconference opponents in store, along with No. 5 Kansas and No. 2 Michigan State. (Artis and Carter were suspended indefinitely this week for selling team-issued sneakers.)
The Hoyas also could face No. 7 Michigan and No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off later this month. Thompson called it the toughest nonconference schedule the Hoyas have had in his 10 years on the Hilltop.
“Hopefully that will prepare our guys for when we face off against the teams in our conference,” Thompson said.
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon has a similar philosophy.
“We don’t want to limp into a season, especially when we think we have a good team,” Turgeon said Thursday when asked about opening against a ranked opponent for a second consecutive year. “And you also want to see where you are. Personally I think U-Conn.’s a little undervalued. With guards like that I think they should be ranked a little higher. It should be a great test to see where we are nationally.”
Turgeon also believes the national exposure is a boon for his program.
“It’s great for our program to play in front of a national audience,” Turgeon said. “It provides your program with a great platform for the start of the season. There are so many college basketball junkies out there who will have the opportunity to watch us play. It’s great visibility for Maryland basketball on the national stage.”
Alex Prewitt contributed to this report.