When the teams face each other again Thursday at Verizon Center, not only will it mark a rare regular season rematch between nonconference opponents, the roles will be reversed.
Jason Clark and the Hoyas (9-1) have won their past seven games and are ranked 16th. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 6-4, having dropped two of three, and did not receive a vote in the Associated Press poll for the first time all season.
“Yes, it is bizarre,” guard Markel Starks said of the team’s flipped fortunes. “A lot of people didn’t expect it to go like this.”
It’s not difficult to pinpoint where Georgetown’s expectation-altering surge began: the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational.
A four-point loss to then-No. 14 Kansas in the opening game of the tournament emboldened the youthful Hoyas. Two days later, a gritty 91-88 overtime triumph over Memphis provided the affirmation they needed.
“It showed us that we can compete with anybody,” said Clark, who is averaging a team-best 15.5 points per game. “We competed very well in our first big test [against Kansas], and in the second test, to get the win, it boosted our confidence a lot.”
Coach John Thompson III added: “Clearly, it helped to give this group a little bit of confidence. That was an important win.”
In a thrilling contest that featured 12 ties, Clark scored a game-high 26 points, including a clutch three-pointer in overtime that put the Hoyas ahead for good.
Thursday’s meeting figures to be decided by the team that dictates the tempo. Will Barton (20.7 points per game, 8.6 rebounds) and Joe Jackson (13 points) will attempt to speed things up by scoring in transition for Memphis, which ranks 11th nationally in points per game (82.1). In the Nov. 23 meeting, Barton had a team-high 22 points, while Jackson contributed 20.
Steady-shooting Georgetown, on the other hand, will want to establish a more deliberate pace against a Tigers’ defense that has yielded 72 or more points seven times, including Monday’s 85-75 win over Lipscomb. The Hoyas are shooting 49.2 percent from the field, which ranks 18th in the nation.
“The first time we played them, we did a good job of keeping the game at our pace,” said Starks, who scored a career-high 18 points Saturday against American. “We just have to play at our pace. If we come out and we dictate, we’ll come out victorious.”
The Hoyas will also look for another strong game from freshman Otto Porter, who leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. The tenacious 6-foot-8 forward grabbed a season-high 10 against American and is a big reason they’ve only been outrebounded twice (by Kansas and Howard).
“Some people, a shot goes up, it takes them two steps before, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go rebound,’ ” Thompson said. “His mind is always think about what’s happening next and then he pursues the ball. We didn’t have anyone like him last year.”
The contest will mark only the second time the Hoyas have played the same nonconference opponent twice in the regular season. It also happened in 1968, when they played a home-and-home series with George Washington. In 1979-80, Georgetown faced Maryland and Iona twice apiece; however, the second meetings came in the NCAA tournament.
“In a perfect world, we would not have met them in” Maui, Thompson said. “Obviously, they’ve gotten a taste of what we try of to do, and we’ve gotten a taste of what they try to do. You deal with that enough in the conference.”
A win over Memphis could be just as important as the first, particularly since it’s the Hoyas’ final tune-up before opening Big East play at No. 4 Louisville next Wednesday.
Beating the Tigers “set us on the right path as far as future games,” junior Hollis Thompson said. “We want to continue on that path.”