College basketball Christmas tournaments are about to move into full swing, with most Top 20 teams using this weekend after the holiday to host tourneys with three lesser opponents as a final tuneup for their upcoming conference seasons.
Both Maryland and Georgetown will compete in holiday tournaments. The Terps are hosting the final Maryland Invitational Tournament, and Georgetown travels to San Diego to play in the Cabrillo Classic.
The usually weak MIT, to be played this Monday and Tuesday at Cole Field House, features undefeated St. Joseph's, in a slightly stronger field than last year's. Poor attendance annually led to the tournament's cancellation, however: The two-night competition drew only about 6,000 last year.
The ninth-ranked Terrapins (7-1), coming off Tuesday's 66-55 win over Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Georgia Tech, will face Marshall at 7 p.m. in Monday's opener. St. Joe's (4-0) plays Bowling Green of Ohio at 9 p.m., with the first-round winners meeting in the final Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Terps are favored to win for the ninth time in 10 years.
Georgetown (6-3) will encounter top-ranked De Paul Monday in the opener of the Cabrillo Classic. La Salle and San Diege State complete the field, and the host Aztecs are hoping to fill the 13,000-seat San Diego Sports Arena by winning their first-round game and then facing De Paul for the championship on Tuesday.
De Paul is unbeaten and Georgetown is not playing that well, by Coach John Thompson's own admission. Having defeated Texas Southern, 80-61, Tuesday night in McDough Arena, the Hoyas would like to enter their Big East season (beginning Jan. 7) with at least two more wins to their credit.
Two losses in the Cabrillo could be disastrous, since the Hoyas begin the new year with games with Penn and St. John's, their first league opponent.
"We're still trying to find out about ourselves," said Thompson. "We looked better (against Texas Southern) but I'm not ready to jump up and start clapping my hands. The team is still searching for an indentity. It's not so bad that they don't know themselves, but it's scary when I don't.
"I don't know how good we are, but that doesn't worry me for the De Paul game. I'll really feel better when we play bigger teams. You've got to play against the De Pauls if you expect to get an indication of how good the team actually is."
The Blue Demons may be ripe for their first defeat. They have a disturbing habit of playing to the level of their opposition for 36 minutes before playing up to their own potential to pull away in the last four. One of these days, maybe Monday night, the Demons will face a team that can hold on to a one-point lead for the final few moments.