Georgetown is on the road again today, which automatically means another sellout in an opposing arena. The Hoyas, having won 27 straight games over two seasons, have caused a desperate rush among ticket buyers all over the Big East.
Today's road frenzy will begin at noon in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (WTTG-TV-5), where Georgetown will play the Pitt Panthers before what is expected to be the largest crowd ever to attend a college basketball game in that city. The arena, holding 16,532, was sold out 17 days ago.
More than 16,000 are expected for Maryland's nationally televised nonconference game at Nevada-Las Vegas (WRC-TV-4 at 3 o'clock), which has won 10 straight since being routed by Georgetown last month. Navy will be going for its eighth consecutive victory tonight when it faces William and Mary in an important ECAC South game.
Georgetown's experience at Pitt this afternoon won't be unique. In fact, the Hoyas' six remaining conference road games will be sellouts. Syracuse has sold 30,000 tickets for its home game against Georgetown at the Carrier Dome Jan. 28 and expects to sell a record 33,000. The Boston Garden has sold 14,800 tickets for the Boston College-Georgetown game on Feb. 9.
Providence College officials say they expect to have sold all 12,500 seats in the Civic Center the week before the Feb. 16 game. Connecticut has few of its 15,673 tickets left for its Feb. 23 game. And St. John's sold all 19,591 as soon as Madison Square Garden put its tickets on sale.
"It pleases me that the conference is doing so well, and we can be such a big part of it," Georgetown's athletic director, Frank Rienzo, said yesterday.
Rienzo also talked about some of the reasons Georgetown draws better on the road than at home. "People in other cities have only one chance to see Georgetown play. But here in D.C., people have 16 chances. My guesstimate is that our home attendance will be up about 40 percent," Rienzo said.
The huge road crowds mostly serve to fire up the home schools, as if they need any more incentive than playing the No. 1-ranked team (16-0 this season) in the country.
Still, when asked about playing in sold-out arenas every week, Georgetown Coach John Thompson said he doesn't mind. "I think it's good for our kids, too," Thompson said. "When we got to the Final Four last year in Seattle (at the Kingdome), I said to the kids, 'Hey, this is just like being at Syracuse.' "
Besides having guaranteed sellouts, the Hoyas probably will have guaranteed tough times at every road stop. Villanova, before 18,202 last week at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, took Georgetown into overtime. Many strongly doubt Pitt's chances of doing that today. After all, the Panthers (9-4) have lost their last two, including an embarrassing 31-point home loss on Monday to St. John's.
Pitt Coach Roy Chipman said later, "We should have lost by 70."
It was Pitt's worst home loss in 31 years -- "the most humiliating since we've been here," Chipman said -- and the most lopsided game ever played in the Big East, a record that stood until Georgetown beat Providence by 41 two nights later.
But Chipman plans to change his lineup for today's game, trying to find some help for 6-foot-10 freshman forward Charles Smith, who leads his team in scoring (13.3), rebounding (7.0) and blocked shots. Chipman apparently will replace another freshman, Demetreus Gore, with junior Joey David at one guard. Power forward Chip Watkins, benched earlier this season for defensive liabilities, will replace Andre Williams, who is being benched for his defensive shortcomings.
Chipman also considered replacing junior center Keith Armstrong, who failed to get a rebound in the first half of the last two games.
When Chipman was asked going into this week how he felt about playing St. John's and Georgetown back to back, he said, "Nobody likes to be near sharp knives." The best thing Pitt could do today is get some sharp shooting before halftime. Against St. John's, the Panthers missed 17 of their first 23 shots. "Hopefully, we can get a better start against Georgetown," Chipman said. "I know we're a much better team than we showed against St. John's. We'll see how they do against Georgetown."
Probably, the Panthers will do much better. It's remarkable how well a team can play at home when the opponent is the unbeaten, No. 1-ranked defending national champion, especially when that home team has just been embarrassed and had its lineup shaken.
However, Georgetown has the ultimate silencer in 7-foot center Patrick Ewing, who is averaging 18 points in Big East games and shooting 74 percent. While the Hoyas are achieving the same defensive results as last year -- holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting -- Georgetown is beginning to pick up offensively.
The Hoyas are shooting 52 percent for the season, with six players at 50 percent or better.
In other games involving area teams, George Washington might have to play without senior center Mike Brown again, this time at St. Joseph's, in search of its first Atlantic 10 road victory; George Mason will visit James Madison at 7:30 in an ECAC South game; American will be host to North Carolina-Wilmington at 7:30; Delaware will play at Howard at 8 o'clock in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game, and the University of the District of Columbia will play at Pace.