Eight months ago, when Georgetown scheduled its first meeting with Missouri, not even the most optimistic Hoya fan could have imagined how glamorous a game it would shape up to be.
Missouri, ranked fourth in the nation, plays No. 13 Georgetown at McDonough Arena today in a nationally televised contest that should prove to be a showcase of young talent, with each team centered by a powerful and agile big man.
It will be Georgetown's 7-foot freshman, Patrick Ewing, against Missouri's 6-10 junior Steve Stipanovich. Stipanovich is expected to use his smooth base line jumper to pull Ewing away from the basket, and the Hoyas hope to utilize Ewing's height and reach advantage in the six to eight feet of court around the basket.
But the game doesn't stop with the center matchup. Each team has at least four other players capable of scoring 20 points each and taking over a game offensively. Each team has won 20 games, primarily with solid defenses that have often been able to render opponents almost helpless for stretches of 10 and 12 minutes.
Missouri's opponents have made only .417 percent of their shots against the Tigers this season. Georgetown's opponents have averaged only .410 against the Hoyas.
For perhaps the first time this season, Georgetown's depth could be tested. Mike Hancock and Eric Smith, two senior forwards, will probably play, but each is suffering from a sprained right ankle.
Last year, that would have been disastrous. Today, if Smith and Hancock can't go full speed, Coach John Thompson will send in Anthony Jones and William Martin and not lose much, if anything, on offense. Defensively, the Hoyas could miss Smith.
Before Wednesday's loss to Boston College, Thompson said this Hoya team was further along than any team in his 10 years at Georgetown. The Hoyas may have suffered a setback, so far as national image, with the loss to BC, but a victory over the Tigers would more than compensate.
The Tigers wouldn't mind a bolstering of their national image, either. Missouri, despite being ranked No. 1 earlier this season, hasn't been accorded the national respect enjoyed by Virginia, North Carolina, De Paul, and even teams like Kentucky and Indiana that have many more losses.
Part of the reason for that is Missouri doesn't have many players with outstanding talent. Stipanovich and forward Ricky Frazier, the team's leading scorer, have to work hard or they'll get outplayed.
"We've built from the bottom and tried to get a good foundation," Missouri Coach Norm Stewart said. "The type of athlete we've fortunately been able to get may not be outwardly talented, but has talent thrown in with mental toughness. If someone would talk about our program, they'd say we had talent, but that we're also mentally tough."
Stewart, a tough practice coach, reportedly gave his players last night off to explore the city.
The game is being played at McDonough (capacity 4,200) because Capital Centre, where Georgetown is scheduled for 12 home games this year, was committed to the Ice Capades.
Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo said last night that the school has had preliminary discussions with Capital Centre about playing more games there next season, but will continue to play some of its games at McDonough.