Hoyas Work on Turnaround

Roy Hibbert, battling Rutgers' Adrian Hill, left, for a rebound, was rested on Wednesday in hopes of staying fresh for tonight's game.
Roy Hibbert, battling Rutgers' Adrian Hill, left, for a rebound, was rested on Wednesday in hopes of staying fresh for tonight's game. (By Mel Evans -- Associated Press)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2007

As Georgetown pulled away during the second half of its 68-54 victory at Rutgers on Wednesday night, Coach John Thompson III started to pull some of his starters off the court. First it was guard Jonathan Wallace and forward Jeff Green; then it was center Roy Hibbert. Thompson already was thinking ahead to tonight, when the Hoyas face Seton Hall, their second game in three days.

"I wanted to see, once we got the lead, if we could get those guys a rest," Thompson said of his three leading scorers. "The one-day turnaround definitely hurt us the last time."

Indeed, Georgetown lost at home to Villanova on Jan. 8, just two days after handily beating then-No. 17 Notre Dame. Thompson later said that fatigue was a factor in the 56-52 loss to the Wildcats. But it is something the Hoyas will have to handle; they face more of these quick turnarounds than any other team in the Big East. On four occasions, they will play two games in three days -- something that Thompson was quick to notice when the league schedule was released.

In the Big East, it's not unusual for teams to have to play on a Saturday and again the following Monday night as part of ESPN's "Big Monday" telecast. Georgetown is making two appearances on "Big Monday" this season -- Villanova last week was the first, and the second is the Hoyas' game at Syracuse on Feb. 26.

"It's not the best situation in terms of preparation, but I don't mind it as long as the opponent is doing the same thing," said Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, whose team will make three appearances on "Big Monday." "I don't mind sacrificing for television as long as the opponent doesn't gain an advantage."

The conference is mindful of that when it is putting together the schedule, according to Big East associate commissioner John Paquette. Louisville, for instance, travels to DePaul tomorrow and then hosts Connecticut on Monday. The Huskies also play tomorrow, against Indiana.

But the Hoyas also have to deal with scheduling conflicts in their home arena. Georgetown (Verizon Center) -- like Seton Hall (Continental Airlines Arena) and St. John's (Madison Square Garden) -- shares its home with NBA and NHL teams, both of which get priority for scheduling games. So Georgetown and Seton Hall are playing a rare Friday night conference game because both the New Jersey Devils (1 p.m.) and New Jersey Nets (8 p.m.) play at home tomorrow.

In February, Georgetown hosts West Virginia on a Monday night, two days after the Hoyas play Marquette and the Mountaineers face UCLA. That game is not being televised by ESPN (Louisville at Pittsburgh is the featured game), but it is being played on that night because Verizon Center is hosting Disney on Ice during the latter part of the week.

This week, the Hoyas opted to remain in New Jersey between games; they were scheduled to practice at Princeton -- Thompson's alma mater -- yesterday afternoon. It made sense logistically to stay, even though it meant that the players missed three days' worth of classes. Plus, the conference prefers that its visiting teams travel on the day before a game to avoid any last-minute complications. The quick turnaround between games, obviously, cuts down on a team's preparation time. Said Bobby Gonzalez, who is in his first season as Seton Hall's coach: "You want to have time to watch film, break down strengths and weaknesses, and get a chance to transfer that information to your team. In 24 hours, you really can't do much of anything."

But Thompson is accustomed to having to prepare for two teams at the same time, after playing and coaching in the Ivy League, which plays its league games on consecutive nights (Friday and Saturday). This week, the Hoyas spent Monday's practice preparing for Rutgers and Seton Hall. On Tuesday, they focused exclusively on the Scarlet Knights; yesterday was devoted to the Pirates.

"We kind of have to prepare for two teams at once," Wallace said. "At least the older guys have a little bit more experience of seeing the teams beforehand, and knowing some of their tendencies from years past. Just carrying that over and letting the young guys be aware of what we're going to face is important."

A bigger issue for Georgetown and Seton Hall is fatigue, which is what Thompson tried to address Wednesday. The Pirates rely heavily on six players; their top two scorers, swingman Brian Laing and guard Eugene Harvey, are each averaging more than 38 minutes in league play. The Hoyas use a nine-man rotation, but their back court is thin, with just three true guards: Wallace (30.5 minutes per game), sophomore Jessie Sapp (team-high 31.6 minutes) and freshman Jeremiah Rivers.

"The turnaround is so quick on the kids, and it just kind of becomes like war of attrition," said Gonzalez, whose team beat Providence, 69-68, on Wednesday. "That's why the Big East is so tough. The schedule is murder; the teams you play are murder. That's why it's usually mature, veteran teams like Pittsburgh, teams that have depth, those are teams that usually win, because they have enough bodies to absorb that kind of schedule."

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