By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:47 AM
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Although their campuses sit only a half-hour drive apart, Georgetown and George Mason have played each other in basketball only once, and that game was almost a quarter-century ago.
But there's a chance that a second meeting will take place Sunday on neutral floor about 450 miles from the Beltway. The 20th-ranked Hoyas and Patriots find themselves on opposite sides of the eight-team bracket at the Charleston Classic, and if each team wins its games Thursday and Friday, they'll play for the championship.
In their only previous regular season meeting, the Hoyas won, 75-63, at Patriot Center on Dec. 3 1985, a victory that gave John Thompson Jr. his 300th career victory. In recent years, current Georgetown coach John Thompson III and Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga have scheduled preseason scrimmages between their squads, but they agreed to call it off this year - just in case they meet at Carolina First Arena.
"We didn't want to scrimmage them three weeks ago and have to play them in a game now," Thompson said before adding with a laugh, "It messed up a really good scrimmage."
Should the Hoyas (2-0) and Patriots (1-0) advance to the final, it would be a treat for local basketball fans who rarely get to see two of the Washington area's top programs clash. But a potential meeting also remains far from guaranteed considering Georgetown's front-court concerns and George Mason's difficult draw.
On Wednesday, Georgetown received encouraging news regarding starting center Julian Vaughn, who was taken to the hospital after falling ill during Sunday's practice. The 6 foot 9 center rejoined the team in Charleston and has been cleared by doctors to play, though it remains to be seen how many minutes he'll receive when the Hoyas open play Thursday at noon against Coastal Carolina.
Although Georgetown throttled Tulane, 69-53, without Vaughn on Monday, the Hoyas likely will need more from their front-court players, who, through two games, have accounted for only 20 of the team's 131 points.
Jason Clark, meantime, also rejoined the team Wednesday. The junior guard stayed behind to be with his family following Monday's death of his grandmother, with whom he was very close.
With that as a backdrop, the Hoyas' first game could be tough one. The Chanticleers bring back two starters, including leading scorer Chad Gray, from a team that won a school-record 28 games last season and was named the preseason favorite to win the Big South conference. The winner will face either South Carolina Upstate (6-23 last season) or, more likely, Wofford, which returns four starters from a team that pushed Wisconsin to the brink in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last March.
"I want our team to meet tests - continuous, constant and different types of tests - and this tournament provides that," Thompson said. "There's not going to be any easy nights, and we wanted to come down here and get tested three times in four nights."
George Mason and its five returning starters also head south in search of a challenge. After defeating Harvard, 66-53, on Saturday, the Patriots open the tournament against Charlotte and first-year coach Alan Major, a former assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State. The 49ers return four starters, including their top three scorers from last season - 6-6 forward Shamari Spears (16 points per game), 6-2 guard Derrio Green (13.1) and 6-9 forward Chris Braswell (9.5 points and 8.6 rebounds), who originally gave an oral committment to Georgetown before failing to qualify academically and signing with Charlotte.
If George Mason standouts Cam Long and Ryan Pearson and the Patriots' experience can trump Charlotte's size and athleticism, they'll likely get North Carolina State in the second round. The Wolfpack open against East Carolina.
"It's no small task," Larranaga conceded. "But the whole reason we play in these events is because it gives us a chance to play against great competition."
But even if Georgetown and George Mason don't meet in Charleston, there's hope local fans will see the Hoyas and Patriots play locally in future seasons.
"I have talked to John Thompson III about playing," Larranaga said. "Georgetown already had a series scheduled against Old Dominion and I think they only wanted to play one [Colonial Athletic Association] team. So it's possible in the future that we'll be able to get the teams together on the court."