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Georgetown basketball vs. Rutgers: John Thompson III ready for new conference, Hoyas prepare for Rutgers

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Georgetown Coach John Thompson III voiced no hesitation Friday about plans to launch the new basketball-driven conference next season rather than wait until 2014-15, as many had anticipated.

“I’ve said from the beginning, ‘The sooner, the better,’ ” Thompson noted before the Hoyas’ final practice for Saturday’s game against Rutgers. “I think that’s best for every and all parties in our situation and the other conference.”

But he declined comment on reports that Butler and Xavier would join the league, formed by the seven current Big East members that don’t play big-time football. “I’ll wait until we see who they are,” Thompson said, “then I’ll comment on who’s with us or not.”

Details of the new conference — including its name and incoming members — are expected to be unveiled Tuesday in New York during a news conference held by Fox Sports, which is launching a 24/7 cable network, Fox Sports 1, to compete with ESPN.

The new league is expected to call itself the Big East, but Thompson demurred on that, as well, saying: “I’d love to call it the Georgetown League, myself, if we’re going to throw stuff out there.”

But he made clear that he prefers the “Basketball Seven” as an interim name to the broadly used “Catholic Seven.” Although all seven founding teams are Catholic (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova), as is Xavier, religious affiliation won’t define the conference, which will likely expand to 12 schools by the 2014-15 season.

Georgetown’s sooner-than-expected departure from the current Big East, whose membership has been in turmoil for the past 18 months, makes the prospect of winning the 2012-13 regular season title and 2013 Big East Tournament even more compelling.

Ranked a season-high No. 7, Georgetown (22-4, 12-3) sits atop the league standings with three games remaining. The Hoyas host Rutgers on Saturday night at Verizon Center, travel to Philadelphia for a game at Villanova on Wednesday and return to Verizon for their season finale against archrival Syracuse on March 9.

But if Thompson is relishing the prospect of winning one last regular season title or conference championship before the old Big East is gone, there’s no evidence. He and his high-flying Hoyas are keeping their lens narrowly focused on Rutgers (13-13, 4-11) despite the fact that the Scarlet Knights have lost their leading scorer, guard Eli Carter, to a broken leg and have dropped three of their last four games.

“In practice every day, there is no letup,” said junior forward Nate Lubick, who embodies the Hoyas’ tough-minded persona. “We prepare for every game like it’s the biggest game of the season. . . . I don’t want to say we didn’t have that last year. But just the focus this year, the attention to detail, how hard guys work every day — I think it has really stepped up.”

Georgetown survived its toughest road stretch of the season last week, upsetting then-No. 8 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome and rallying from a seven-point deficit in the last two minutes to defeat Connecticut in double overtime, pulling out both victories in front of rabid capacity crowds.

“We didn’t panic. We knew what we had to do to get back in the game, and we did it,” said sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr., who followed a 33-point performance against Syracuse by scoring 22 at Connecticut, including the game-winner with nine seconds remaining.

Porter’s heroics have vaulted him into contention for national player-of-the-year honors. And the Hoyas’ 10-game winning streak has led to talk of first-place votes in the national poll and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

While pleased that Porter is receiving deserved accolades, Thompson dismisses the buzz about the Hoyas’ postseason prospects.

“If you take care of the next game enough times, then at the end of the year you’ve had a good year,” Thompson said. “We’re worried about Rutgers.”

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