During practices leading up to Saturday's road showdown with Virginia, Georgetown will continue to concentrate on rebounding, how to attack a zone defense, rebounding, end-game situations, rebounding, full-court pressure, rebounding -- and, to press the point as hard as possible, rebounding.
"It's the one thing we've got to stop," said power forward Mike Sweetney, referring to quality opponents being able to get far too many second-chance points. "We don't want teams to find out that we can't rebound the ball pretty good. It can kill us."
Last season at MCI Center, Virginia had 19 more rebounds than Georgetown in a 61-55 victory. Of Virginia's 49 rebounds, 23 were on the offensive end, which created numerous problems that Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick recalls all too vividly.
"We had done a good job stopping them lots of possessions," Esherick said. "Then we just gave them a layup. They'd get an offensive rebound and put the ball back in. That's really demoralizing because it takes away some of your confidence. Plus, because we didn't stop them [on the offensive glass], we never had a chance to get our break going until the second half.
"They got 20 of their offensive rebounds the first 30 minutes [and built a double-digit lead at times]. I think we have as good a fast-breaking team as last year, but you can't run a fast break unless you steal the ball or get the rebound."
However, Sweetney and another key player, shooting guard Tony Bethel, were banged up at practice Wednesday. Sweetney is dealing with a strained left hamstring and may not practice today, but probably will start on Saturday. Bethel bruised his lower back during a hard fall but is expected to start.
Virginia looms as the unbeaten Hoyas' first major test after seven games. With Sweetney as the anchor on offense and defense with his averages of 20.7 points and 10 rebounds, Georgetown has a player among the Big East Conference leaders in many categories and seems a victory away from cracking the top 25 in the polls.
Center Wesley Wilson is among the league leaders in rebounding (six) and blocked shots (2.29) and point guard Drew Hall is second in assist to turnover ratio (3.6 to one). Bethel is second in three-point field-goal percentage (50) and swingman Gerald Riley is fourth in steals (2.29) and sixth in free throw percentage (84.6).
The only starter with close to embarrassing statistics across the board is freshman small forward Brandon Bowman, who has missed 17 of 20 three-point shots and had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists. Esherick attributed that to "adjusting to the level of play. He's done some good things the last couple of games."
Esherick is allowing Bowman to work through mistakes and remain the starter as he did with Riley his freshman season two years ago. But Hall, a sophomore, has averaged nearly eight more minutes playing as a reserve. Hall's average of 26.4 minutes is tops on the team by a slim margin.
"Drew's our best passer and penetrator," Esherick said. "And we've got enough [offensive firepower] for him to build up his assists."
Esherick expects Virginia to play zone a lot, mainly because of Sweetney's power inside and the fact that Georgetown did not handle it well last season.
The low three-point percentage (4 for 18) is deceptive, however. Since-departed Kevin Braswell took eight of those three pointers and missed seven. Bethel and Hall, both freshmen at the time, were a combined 4 of 7 on threes. Bethel was 5 of 9 from the field and had 12 points.
"I know they'll try a zone and sag on Mike," Bethel said, "so the shots will be there."
Concentrating on Sweetney would all but eliminate any sustained one-on-one matchups between him and Travis Watson, one of the other superior power forwards in the country. Watson had 12 points and 13 rebounds at MCI Center last year. Sweetney made five on his seven shots but did not earn a free throw.
"Coach has been talking a lot," Wilson said, "about all the fundamentals: getting rebounds, boxing out, being on top of our game."
Esherick cannot imagine how many times he has stressed rebounding the last two years to a team still either young or inexperienced.
"That's an area where you can make significant improvement, from the beginning of the season to the end," he said. "We've got some new drills to emphasize it. Some possessions we've done a really great job and some possessions we've done a terrible job. It's something where we've got to get better quickly."