Maybe more so than any other Big East school, Georgetown is preparing for the league's regular season by putting itself in position to have a conference-like week in early December.
On Dec. 8, the Hoyas are signed up to play top-15 Butler in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Just ask Pitt coach Jamie Dixon about Butler. The Bulldogs had two of the most important players on Dixon's gold-medal winning Under-19 World Championship team in New Zealand.
Matt Howard, perhaps the Bulldogs' best player, wasn't on either USA Basketball team this summer. So that may reveal just how talented Butler will be next season.
But the Hoyas won't stop there. The John Wooden Classic was desperate to land a quality opponent for Washington in the Anaheim game on Dec. 12. It already scored a coup with UCLA playing upstart Mississippi State, a likely top-15 team, in one side of the doubleheader. Georgetown took the game and signed on to play the Huskies. Now the event will pit two projected top-three teams in two major conferences from the Pac-10 and Big East.
"That's a Big East week,'' Thompson III said. "The preconference schedule is supposed to prepare you for the league. Some conferences play a similar style, but in our league it's all over the board. We're going against two experienced teams, two very well-coached teams and two very different style teams across the country. That week will prepare us for the league.''
Butler is a tight defensive team that can keep the game in the 50s or low 60s. Washington wants to run up and down as fast as it can. Georgetown plays a hybrid of both styles at times.
Thompson III said he chose these two neutral events rather than a traditional tournament. Georgetown also hosts Duke in the middle of the Big East season, something JT3 said he hates doing but obviously will to accommodate television partners. Georgetown is also taking its act on the road to Tulane and Savannah State, as well as playing pesky Temple and Old Dominion.
Throughout conversations on ESPNU and off air in Orlando, the Hoyas were the pick to possibly challenge Villanova for the league title, especially in light of the problems at West Virginia in the offseason with both point guards -- Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla -- suspended indefinitely.
Georgetown returns one of the top players in the Big East in Greg Monroe. He could have gone in the first 10 picks of the NBA draft last month after his freshman season. He's one of the top passers and is perfect for JT3's hybrid Princeton offense.
Monroe spent the summer in D.C. and New Orleans and at the Amare Stoudemire camp in Arizona.
"First and foremost, he has to get mentally stronger,'' Thompson said. "As the year went on, the scouting reports were better, and they were coming at him. He's got to get ready for that. He should be mentally and physically ready for a strong year.''
The Hoyas do have the requisite pieces to make a serious run. They have the top center in the league in Monroe. Sure, they lost leading scorer and top wing DaJuan Summers a year early to the NBA. But the depth on the perimeter with Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark can match up against any in the league. The inside rotation around Monroe (Henry Sims, Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson, who finished high school early last year and spent the second semester at Georgetown) is once again as deep as any other team in the Big East.
The Hoyas shocked Connecticut in the league opener in Hartford on Dec. 29. Then they lost back-to-back to Pitt and at Notre Dame. They couldn't recover and finished 7-11 in the league (16-15 overall after losing to Baylor in the NIT first round).
Coaches from around the league simply said the Hoyas were young. No one is questioning their fall last season.
"We came out of the gate and didn't hit road blocks until into league play,'' said JT3 of the Hoyas, who also smacked Maryland in Orlando last November. "But we did gain experience last season. We understood how hard it is to win. We learned a lot.''
Hollis Thompson could be a missing piece. The big man now knows the system and should be able to offer plenty of size next to Monroe. Vaughn, a transfer from Florida State, now has a full year in the system, and Thompson the coach expects that Thompson and Freeman will make shots to keep defenses off balance.
If you're looking for a sleeper pick to go deep into March, Georgetown might be your selection.
• Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said his two high-profile transfers -- Herb Pope (New Mexico State) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) -- are eligible for the fall. Memphis transfer Jeff Robinson will be eligible in December, as expected since he left the Tigers in the middle of the season.
The Pirates, who finished tied with Georgetown at 7-11 (17-15 overall), are another trendy pick to move up in the league standings.
• Seton Hall desperately needs another high-profile game and has talked to Siena and Mississippi State. All three need a game. Somehow, this should get worked out with at least two of them playing each other. These would be quality games for three teams that might need power-rating points next March.