For elite programs, there are few occasions where a team can look back at a win in November as a defining moment. For Georgetown, their overtime win over Memphis might just qualify.
With 10 freshman and sophomores out of a total of 13 players, Tuesday night's defeat of Memphis was a big victory and an even bigger confidence boost for a young but talented squad.
Having scheduled a non-conference schedule loaded with Top 25 teams, Coach John Thompson knew he was taking a risk. As with any young team, building confidence, especially early, is critical to future successes in conference play. Georgetown isn't just young, they are babies, and should the Hoyas have been run off the court in Maui, the team's confidence may have suffered a dangerous blow that could have deflated the spirit of the team.
Instead, following the directive of seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims, Georgetown's pups played more like ferocious bulldogs. They hung close with Kansas, blew out host Chaminade and came back to knock off eighth ranked Memphis in thrilling fashion.
Picked to finish 10th in Big East conference play in the Big East Media Day Coaches Poll, the Hoyas voiced their disapproval on the court, refusing to get bullied by a tough Kansas team and outplaying Memphis in nearly every facet of the game.
After realizing they could hang with Kansas, the Hoyas played with a swagger against Memphis; a swagger that showed Georgetown felt they belonged.
As Coach Thompson said (via ESPN), "There’s reason for excitement when you come away with a win against a team of that caliber, and the Kansas game was winnable, too. This team believes in each other and they believe in what we’re doing."
While the Maui Invitational was a confidence boost for the the team as a whole, it was a coming out party for elder statesmen Jason Clark and Henry Sims and newcomer Otto Porter.
Coming into the season, everyone knew that the Hoyas would be forced to rely on Jason Clark. Having played in the shadows of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, this year would be Clark's time to shine. Over the course of the past three games, the senior leader outshone even the brightest of Maui days.
After a quiet 15 points in Kansas, Clark exploded for 28 against Chaminade and 26 against Memphis. No points were bigger than the three he hit to put the Hoyas up two in overtime against the Tigers. Clark's 23 PPG not only led the Hoyas but the rest of the field at the invitational as well.
An unlikely star for Georgetown was Henry Sims. Unlike Clark, little was expected from the much maligned big man. After three disappointing seasons, Sims has played well this so far and saved his best effort of the season (and his career) for Memphis, exploding for 24 points 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
For a player who looked as if he were in a fog offensively the majority of his first three seasons on the hilltop, Sims proved to be surprisingly savvy around the basket, using a wide variety of post moves to confound the smaller Memphis defense. Many Georgetown fans were even more astonished to see the Hoyas run almost every offensive series through Sims down the stretch.
The third key contributor for the Hoyas in Maui, was Otto Porter. Just a freshman, Porter is already drawing comparisons to former Hoya great, Jeff Green. At 6'8" Porter can score and rebound and defends with tenacity. His length and versatility were key to slowing Memphis' explosive attack. While currently a sixth man, it doesn't seem like it will be long before Porter finds himself in the starting lineup.
Returning home, Georgetown knows that they have lots of work to do and a long season ahead. Nevertheless, the experience and tough competition they faced in Maui will help the young Hoyas prepare for their brutal Big East schedule that lays ahead. Seasons aren't won or lost in November but for a team in search of an identity and benchmark for where they stand, Maui will help lay the foundations for what should be a highly competitive season in the Big East.