The positions of Georgetown and No. 16 Notre Dame in the Big East Conference's West Division are cemented, regardless of the outcome of today's game at MCI Center -- the Hoyas at fifth and the Irish at fourth. So Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick is treating it as a mind game.
"It's important for us in terms of how we feel about ourselves," he said. "And I think it's important to let potential opponents [in the league tournament] know we're playing well."
As recently as Monday, the Hoyas (14-12, 6-9) hadn't qualified for the conference tournament. Now they hope to make the NCAA tournament by winning the league tournament. That requires winning four games in four nights, which would be unprecedented in the Big East. But Esherick says: "It will get done. Somebody will do it. Hopefully, we'll be the first team."
Thus the mental twists he attaches to today. For their own confidence, the Hoyas need a victory against a highly regarded opponent -- and Notre Dame is exactly that, for it is ensured a spot in the NCAA's showcase event even with losses in its last three games.
At least publicly, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey does not consider today as important as Esherick.
"There are only so many buttons you can push," he said, "and we've pushed a lot of those buttons. It would be nice to get double-digit wins [in the league for the third straight season] . . . We want to get into consistent habits [for] closer to 40 minutes instead of 20 minutes."
Notre Dame (21-8, 9-6) will play St. John's when the conference tournament starts Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, and Georgetown, which has won four of its last six games, will face either Providence or Villanova. It will be the Friars unless they win at home against Seton Hall today and the Wildcats lose Sunday at home against Pittsburgh.
Georgetown has come oh-so-close several times this season against ranked teams -- taking Pittsburgh to the final possession on the road, Syracuse to overtime at MCI and Notre Dame to two overtimes on the road five weeks ago. The vivid memories of that last loss were Mike Sweetney scoring 38 points and grabbing 15 rebounds and the Hoyas failing to get a shot off in the final 15 seconds of regulation.
That sort of scenario occurred the last time the teams met at MCI, when Sweetney had 35 points and 20 rebounds, but the Irish countered with 30 from Matt Carroll and 12 assists from then-freshman Chris Thomas and won in four overtimes.
"If I never have to coach another overtime game in my life," Esherick said, referring to just one victory in eight overtimes in the last two seasons, "I will feel happy, very happy. I don't ever want to coach another overtime game."
The recent Georgetown-Notre Dame games have featured Sweetney scoring inside and Thomas and Carroll managing well from long range. Carroll and Thomas had 36 and 24 points in the earlier victory this season, but Thomas missed 16 of 20 field goal tries.
"We'll be prepared," Georgetown swingman Gerald Riley said.
In addition to ranking third in the league in scoring (22.6), second in rebounding (10.4) and second in blocked shots (3.19), Sweetney has been as durable as anyone, averaging more than 36 minutes in conference games.
"But I'm still fresh," he said.
Hoyas Note: Seniors Victor Samnick and Trenton Hillier will be honored before the game. Courtland Freeman also is a senior, but took a redshirt season and will return next year.