WASHINGTON (AP)—Duke vs. Georgetown. Two top 10 teams. Sellout crowd at the Verizon Center. Even the president might show up.
The one flaw for Georgetown coach John Thompson III? The game comes in the wrong month.
“Television dictates this out-of-conference series,” Thompson said. “In my perfect world, once the Big East starts, we’re just playing Big East games.”
Saturday’s matchup between the No. 7 Hoyas and the No. 8 Blue Devils wraps up the schools’ four-game contract that gave television a major say in dictating dates and times. The series has produced some memorable moments, from the fans storming the court following Georgetown’s upset of then-No. 1 Duke in 2006 to the phantom technical foul on Greg Monroe that swung the momentum last year in Durham.
But one could argue that this game is the last thing Georgetown (15-4) needs during a brutal conference schedule. The Big East has four teams in the top 10 and five in the top 20. The Hoyas are coming off their worst game of the season, a 73-56 defeat at No. 4 Syracuse on Monday.
Actually, someone has argued that point: Thompson’s father, the longtime Georgetown coach.
“He says I’m crazy for playing this series,” Thompson said. “Is it piling on? To a certain extent, yeah. But at the same time you want to play against the best teams, against the best programs, and they are one of them. At the same time you want to get as many different experiences for your group as you can. And hopefully you can go through that without beating (the players) up too much. Big East play, you’re going to be beat up.”
Games against Duke (17-3) are about the only time Georgetown can count on a sellout at the 20,000-seat arena, and many of the fans in the upper bowl will once again wear the visitor’s shade of blue. The city was abuzz Friday with the expectation that President Barack Obama will be among the throng: Georgetown issued a statement telling fans to leave backpacks and bags at home and arrive early for “enhanced security” because of “dignitaries expected.”
Even so, Thompson downplayed the notion of a Georgetown-Duke rivalry.
In that sense, Duke is no Syracuse.
“It’s been a great series for us, both the good and bad, but at the end of the day our Big East games this time of year are more important,” Thompson said.
A quick survey of Thompson’s players ran the gamut. Some said it’s just another game, Julian Vaughn noted its importance for NCAA tournament seeding, and Jason Clark said it was something special.
“This is a really big game—Big East, ACC challenge game,” Clark said. “Duke has a reputation for being a really, really good team, so you kind of get motivated a lot more to play this game.”
That sentiment was echoed by Duke’s Jon Scheyer.
“We need to go in there like it’s a big-time game, (like in) March,” Scheyer said. “It could be like that, so we just want to try to simulate that and come out with a win.”
Duke won the last two meetings between the schools, both in Durham, and there remains a never-solved mystery from last year’s game: Who was the mystery person that caused Monroe to get a technical?
Monroe was on the bench when the Hoyas big man was cited by official John Cahill for fussing about a call, a key moment in the second half of Duke’s 76-67 win. The consensus is nearly unanimous that Monroe didn’t say a word, that it was perhaps was a Georgetown fan seated behind the bench at noisy Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Monroe and Thompson this week revealed an intriguing footnote to that incident, one that has likely made Monroe a better player. Thompson pointed out that Monroe had been too emotional in protesting early foul calls during that game, so it’s likely the officials were on the lookout for him.
“Officials are people,” Thompson said. “Whether it’s a coach, whether it’s a player, but in many circumstances—I get in trouble for saying this—if you’re in a hostile arena, if they’re getting yelled at, if you’re making gyrations, they are people, too. And it’s not out of the question for people to get upset and try to get you back. The lesson learned is you have to keep your cool.”
Monroe says he’s now a calmer player on the court.
“After that,” he said, “I started controlling my emotions more.”
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.