Last week, Georgetown University's basketball team, ranked 14th nationally, played Florida International, a 1-9 team struggling through its second season in Division I. Times change. Tonight, the Hoyas will begin their Big East season at Capital Centre against second-ranked and undefeated Pittsburgh, a dominant inside team adjusting to the loss of two players to academic troubles.
The Panthers (9-0) are a veteran team up front, with 6-10 senior center Charles Smith (18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds), 6-6 forward Jerome Lane (9.4 points, 12.7 rebounds) and 6-5 swing man Demetreus Gore (9.8 points). Smith scored 30 points in Saturday's 80-68 victory over 15th-ranked Florida, with six rebounds and seven blocked shots. Lane, the nation's leading rebounder last season, had 21.
"Obviously, they'll try to use those people," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said. "We're going to be concerned with the inside play. That's normal. It doesn't take a revelation from God to realize that."
However, it was disclosed last week that sophomore forward Rod Brookin wasn't eligible to play during Pittsburgh's winter academic term, which begins today. Brookin, who was second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points a game, needs to earn 11 credit hours this semester to stay in school.
Pittsburgh Coach Paul Evans is not sure whether Brookin will complete the hours, and United Press International reported yesterday that a Pittsburgh radio station said Brookin might leave school. "It's up to him now," Evans told UPI.
At the beginning of the season, Pittsburgh had to redshirt junior guard Mike Goodson because of his academic difficulties.
Brookin was dressed for the Florida game Saturday but sat on the bench, and Evans said he might have put Brookin in if the game were close.
"I was real happy we didn't have to use him," Evans said. "It showed the kids we could win without him."
In Brookin's absence, Gore, who had been the off-guard, has been moved to small forward. And freshman Jason Matthews has been put in the back court with freshman Sean Miller. But they have played well for Pitt and are second and third on the team in scoring -- Miller at 10.9, Matthews at 10.1.
"No matter who's out," Thompson said, "the nucleus of the people are back, and they're good."
The game will no doubt be settled on the boards. Georgetown (9-1) has outrebounded opponents by nearly 16 a game, Pittsburgh little more than eight. Saturday, however, Miami had a 31-30 edge over the Hoyas on the backboards with 7-footer Tito Horford and 6-6 forward Eric Brown. Georgetown's inside play has been spotty at times, and the Hoyas will face none better on the glass than Lane.
Said Florida's freshman forward Livingston Chatman of Lane: "He's awesome under the boards. Jerome, he lives for the rebound. As soon as the shot's up, he's positioning himself. Jerome doesn't care about the shot; it's all rebounds."
"I'm not looking to score," Lane said after the Florida game. "I'm looking to pass, pick and get rebounds. You can see now our team is organized by everyone playing their role. Against good teams, our team plays very well."
Georgetown's back court has come on in the last two games in scoring. Against FIU, Jaren Jackson scored a career-high 21 points. Sophomore guard Mark Tillmon has scored 36 points in the last two games, including a career-high 24 against Miami. Tillmon is the team's leading scorer at 13.8, and just behind Perry McDonald's 12.6 is Charles Smith at 12.3.
During the course of the season, Thompson has hoped his guards would start taking big shots at key points. Saturday, his back court apparently heard that a Miami assistant coach questioned Georgetown's outside game. And Thompson said last Sunday on his weekly television show that it was "the greatest thing in the world that could happen to me. Our kids came out fired up."
If Pittsburgh's back court can handle Georgetown's pressure, the Panthers will have an advantage in the front court. But that's a big if. Georgetown has forced more than 20 turnovers a game, and has had some sort of spurt in every game both off transition and off its traps.
"Their younger kids handled it very well," Thompson said yesterday of Pitt's game with Florida. "But we'll play the same way against everybody. They seemed to handle it well against Florida."
Pitt has played defense about as well as Georgetown (which is allowing 36 percent shooting from the floor). Through eight games, opponents had shot just 39 percent from the floor against the Panthers. Florida could manage but 34.2 percent. Their 7-foot-2 sophomore center, Dwayne Schintzius, had two points (on one-of-12 shooting) and five rebounds in 23 minutes Saturday.
Offensively, the Panthers shoot better than 53 percent from the floor and 50 percent (42 of 84) from three-point range.
One can rest assured that if the Panthers get on top early they won't repeat their performance of last season. At Capital Centre last Feb. 18, Georgetown shot 38 percent from the floor in the first half and Pittsburgh had a 12-point halftime lead.
As the players crossed each other at halfcourt, Brookin stuck his hand out to Reggie Williams and said, "Good game." The aroused Hoyas held Pittsburgh to 22.7 percent shooting from the floor in the second half, put on a 20-0 run early in the second half and rallied to knock off the Panthers, 65-52.