It's a start.

Georgetown's first game ever against Howard tonight at MCI Center begs the question: Will Coach Craig Esherick continue playing area teams?

The Hoyas once scheduled at least one local team almost every year, but stopped in the late 1980s and early '90s under John Thompson. They have played American 48 times, but not in the last 13 seasons. They have played George Washington 93 times, but not in the last 19 seasons. They have played Maryland 61 times, but not since 1993.

"We'll see," said Esherick, who replaced Thompson 11 months ago and assumed full responsibility for scheduling this season. "This is a one-year contract. I don't know what will happen next season."

Both teams are coming off hectic schedules, although the Hoyas (2-3) are much more rested. They played three straight games in the Maui Invitational and at Nevada-Las Vegas four days later. After winning their opener over Memphis at Maui, they lost close games to then-No. 4 North Carolina and to then-No. 6 Florida. They were routed in Las Vegas, 85-69, last Sunday.

Howard (0-4) will be playing its fourth game in six days, having lost to No. 8 Michigan State Friday and to Loyola (Ill.) Saturday in the Spartan Classic. On Wednesday, the Bison lost to Lafayette.

Georgetown made just 11 of 30 free throws against Nevada-Las Vegas, but Esherick attributed that to being tired from playing in Maui and traveling so far. The Hoyas had shot well from the foul line in their previous four games.

"We've got to improve our shot selection and our offensive rebounding," Esherick said.

While Howard will be trying to develop chemistry and consistency, Georgetown wants to extend the minutes of center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and freshman power forward Courtland Freeman. Both are almost completely recovered from nearly identical injuries, to the bone nearest the second toe of their left foot.

Boumtje Boumtje had not practiced hard before the first game in Maui, yet still averaged 18 minutes over that tournament and in Las Vegas. Freeman has played in all five games as a reserve and averaged nearly 17 minutes.

"Considering how little practice he has had," Esherick said, "Ruben has played great. By the time we get to the new year [which includes four games in addition to Howard], I want Ruben and Courtland to be healthy and in [game] shape."