Terps, Hoyas to Spend Holiday in Test Mode

Maryland's Gary Williams, top, and Georgetown's John Thompson III want their teams to be challenged early on.
Maryland's Gary Williams, top, and Georgetown's John Thompson III want their teams to be challenged early on. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Postby Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 27, 2008; Page E01

There are two schools of thought in preparing young college basketball teams for the rigors of regular season play -- particularly in a brutal conference.

One is to build their confidence with a soft preseason schedule that's guaranteed to pile up the victories and boost self-esteem.

The other is to test them early and often against better teams that represent more meaningful measuring sticks. That way, coaches can identify weaknesses quickly and, ideally, remedy them before conference play begins in earnest.

John Thompson III and Gary Williams each have chosen the latter route and picked the same preseason tournament -- Thanksgiving weekend's Old Spice Classic -- for getting down to work. The eight-team tournament includes four nationally ranked squads and two ranked in the top 10 (No. 5 Michigan State and No. 9 Gonzaga).

Both Georgetown (2-0) and Maryland (3-0) may well come away with a loss or two, as a result. Regardless, Thompson and Williams are confident that they also will come away with a keen sense of their respective team's heart, stamina and skill after playing three games in four days at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex outside Orlando.

"Obviously, I put that tournament on the schedule to get a feel for where we are, so we can see what we have to improve on," said Thompson, whose Hoyas inched up to 21st in the latest AP poll. "Everything in the preseason is done with an eye toward getting ready for Big East play."

The ACC, of course, boasts the country's top-ranked team, North Carolina. The Big East claims the next three: Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh, in that order.

Williams characterizes the Old Spice field as the toughest among the slew of preseason tournaments. In other words, it's exactly the sort of workout he thinks his Terrapins could use, particularly after they needed overtime to defeat Vermont, 89-74, on Friday.

"We'll have to play well," Williams said. "But at the same time, you want to see if you can play well for an extended period of time."

Georgetown opens against Wichita State (2-1) of the Missouri Valley Conference today at 2:30 p.m.

To Thompson's delight, his retooled starting lineup, which returns only senior guard Jessie Sapp and junior forward DaJuan Summers from last season's key group, made significant strides from its rocky season opener to its second game, an 81-53 rout of Drexel.

"We were so anxious our first game," said sophomore point guard Chris Wright, who succeeds four-year starter Jonathan Wallace, now playing professionally in Europe. That anxiety translated to a flurry of rash three-point attempts against Jacksonville, hardly the sort of deliberate offensive attack Thompson prefers.

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