Hollis Thompson, right, is one of the few experienced Hoyas back. But with five freshmen joining the fold and following the battling example put forth by the upperclassmen, Georgetown expects to compete. (Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press)

After an offseason that featured a brawl during an exhibition game in China and upheaval in the Big East, the Georgetown men’s basketball team will open the 2011-12 season next month amid uncertain expectations.

Gone are graduated guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, who combined to average 30.5 of the team’s 71 points per game last season, along with forward Julian Vaughn, who led the team in rebounding at 6.1 per game and also chipped in 7.8 points per contest.

The issue facing Coach John Thompson III as practice gets underway Saturday will be what the team possesses on a 13-man roster that includes five freshmen, a redshirt freshman and four sophomores.

“Whatever predictions are out there, I’m not sure we’re going to pay attention to them,” sophomore forward Nate Lubick said during Thursday’s media day at McDonough Arena. “Everybody looks at what we lost, but we gained a lot, too.”

How much Thompson is able to squeeze out of that touted recruited class, in fact, could be the key to the season. Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, Jabril Trawick, Tyler Adams and Mikael Hopkins could be called upon to play immediately. Their individual performances leading up to the Nov. 11 opener against Savannah State will determine how much time they see on the court.

“They’re going to get squeezed, early and often,” Thompson said. “That’s going to happen. The key is may be how they respond and how quickly they grow up and how quickly they get accustomed to performing at this level.”

During the team’s trip to China, the Hoyas’ starting five included Lubick, senior guard Jason Clark, junior swingman Hollis Thompson, sophomore guard Markel Starks and senior center Henry Sims. Clark and Thompson are the top returning scorers (12 and 8.6 points per game, respectively).

But that won’t necessarily be the starting lineup next month. Thompson said it’s possible at least one of the freshmen will earn a spot.

“That’s not out of the realm of possibility at all,” he said.

The Hoyas face a steep learning curve because of their inexperience and the influx of new players. But they also have a bit of head start. In August, they traveled to China for a goodwill tour that featured four exhibition games, including one that was marred by a benches-clearing brawl.

Although the incident garnered international headlines and brought negative attention to the program, it also galvanized the locker room.

“Going through that experience, I do think that has helped expedite the coming-together process of this team because, quite literally, they realized you have to have each other’s back,” Thompson said. “Going through that, we understand that our ability to fight – yes, the pun is intended – through situations [means] we’re going to have to lean on each other.”

Clark added, “It definitely strengthened us and brought us a lot closer.”

Practice also begins as the Big East’s stability appears to be in serious jeopardy. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have already decided to leave for the ACC, while Texas Christian has withdrawn its commitment to join the league for a better offer in the Big 12. Schools such as Connecticut, Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia, meantime, are seen as possible targets of other conferences.

None of that, however, will have any bearing on this season, which Thompson said is his primary focus at the moment.

“You knew change was coming,” Thompson said. “What will happen in 26 months with the Big East is part of that change. It’s the talk of the day. It’s important. You can’t ignore it. You can’t put your head in the sand and block it out because it is a part of who we are and what we do.”

“But,” he added, “getting this group ready to play is important.”

Hoyas nNote: An ESPNU camera crew is following the Hoyas this weekend to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the team ahead of the Maui Invitational. The network is also featuring Maui participants Memphis, UCLA and Kansas.