The buzz among the coaches today at the Big East Conference men's basketball media day was that four teams--defending national champion Connecticut, Syracuse, St. John's and Miami--will be nationally prominent and a fifth should be close to that level by the end of the season. To the surprise of many outsiders, that fifth team is Georgetown.
The Hoyas finished 15-16 last season, won just half of 12 conference games and lost to Princeton in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. But eight of their conference losses were by six or fewer points, and the entire nucleus of a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores returns.
"Georgetown has a chance to be terrific," said Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun. "The key to them is always [big] bodies. And for the first time in a few years they have quality bodies."
One of those bodies, 6-foot-11 junior Ruben Boumtje Boumtje, has an injury to the bone next to the second toe of his left foot and probably will not be available full time until the Dec. 6 game against Howard. Coach Craig Esherick said Boumtje Boumtje will travel with the team to the Maui Invitational, Nov. 22-24, but not play more than a few minutes.
Also, 6-10 freshman Wesley Wilson, the centerpiece of an exceptional recruiting class, has been declared ineligible for the season by the NCAA Clearinghouse and 6-11 Lee Scruggs will not transfer from Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College and be able to play before January.
The conference coaches knew that Georgetown would be without those players for all or part of the season before their preseason poll and still had the Hoyas a solid fifth in the 13-team league.
"I hope we're that good," said Esherick, in his first full season after replacing John Thompson on Jan. 8. "I hope we have earned some of that from our play last year."
Esherick expects improvement from guards Kevin Braswell and Anthony Perry, who both made the conference's all-rookie team last year, and junior small forward Nat Burton, the team's best defensive player.
"In a lot of those [close] losses," Esherick said, "a lot of guys were tired because they had to play too much. That was the case with Kevin and Anthony. Our recruiting class [especially 6-1 Demetrius Hunter in the back court] should help that."
Until Boumtje Boumtje returns, Georgetown's inside players will be seniors Jameel Watkins and Rhese Gibson and freshmen Courtland Freeman and Victor Samnick. Watkins is the only true center among them. Freeman has nearly the same injury as Boumtje Boumtje, but may play in Sunday's exhibition against Fort Hood and should be at full strength for the Maui tournament.
Connecticut received 10 of the 13 first-place votes, with Syracuse a strong second.
The Huskies "have five of the seven guys who helped win the national championship back, so I don't pick anybody in the country ahead of 'em," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "I don't see how you could."
The coaches voted Connecticut junior point guard Khalid El-Amin the preseason player of the year, and 6-11 Ajou Ajou Deng was the pick for rookie of the year. Joining El-Amin on the preseason all-conference first team were Miami swingman Johnny Hemsley, Notre Dame forward Troy Murphy, St. John's point guard Erick Barkley and Syracuse center Etan Thomas.
"I think our 10 is terrific and our five is as good as it has been," Calhoun said. "We've now got to get that into some sort of shape."