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October 25, 2006

Big East notes: Hoyas just fine being No. 2

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Georgetown came away second to Pittsburgh in the Big East's preseason media poll - and that's just fine with the Hoyas. In fact, they feel the Panthers deserved the top spot.

"We have to figure some things out to have success and be in the mix. We still have questions that need to be answered," said Georgetown coach John Thompson III at the league's annual Media Day at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. "I think Pitt knows how they are going to skin the cat. They have depth and experience."

The Panthers bring back 7-foot center Aaron Gray, the preseason conference player of the year, and have other players that either started or played significant time at every position.

The Hoyas feature the league's top frontcourt with 7-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-8 forward Jeff Green, who combined to average 23.5 points and 13.4 rebounds a game. They've also added 6-10 transfer Patrick Ewing, a former role player from Indiana. Georgetown also added recruits DeJuan Summers (6-8) and Vernon Macklin (6-9), a pair of forwards ranked in the top 50 from the class of 2006.

But the backcourt is an entirely different story. Jonathan Wallace is the only guard returning with starting experience, and reserve Jessie Sapp is the only guard who played more than three minutes a game last season.

"Where we mostly need help is the perimeter," Thompson said. "We lost most of our perimeter scoring, most of our perimeter passing and some of our better perimeter defenders."

That's where freshman Jeremiah Rivers, the son of former NBA player Glenn "Doc" Rivers, comes in. The Hoyas are hoping the 6-4, 180-pounder from Winter Park, Fla., can be the trusted ballhandler and solid outside shooter they need.

Giant slims down

Three days after Georgetown's loss to eventual national champ Florida in the Sweet Sixteen, Hibbert started running "the loop" a 2 mile trek around Georgetown's campus.

Hibbert ran the route two to three times a week all summer long. The result was a 15-pound weight loss (down to 270 pounds) and a better-conditioned big man.

"I remember Florida was rotating about four big guys and I began to feel exhausted," Hibbert said. "I knew I had to improve my conditioning."

Green says Hibbert looks more mobile and agile, especially since his first season when he weighed around 300 pounds and played 15 minutes a game.

"There is a big difference since his freshman year," Green said. "The past two summers we have worked hard on his footwork, and he has really improved on and off the court. He still doesn't get the respect he deserves, but he's really come around and the sky is the limit for him."

What a Difference a Year Makes

No team may be going through a bigger transformation from last year's Media Day than Marquette.

The Golden Eagles were picked 12th last season and received little pub in 2005.

Now that they're coming off an NCAA Tournament trip and feature one of the nation's top players in point guard Dominic James, they are getting plenty of attention and a new set of expectations. The Eagles were picked fourth in the preseason poll and were one of four teams to receive a first-place vote.

"It's a lot different," guard Jerel McNeal said. "We are getting respect from all the people who thought we would do nothing last year. We know they are the same guys, so we can't listen to that. We just have to stay focused."

It appears they spent the summer doing just that. McNeal and James said nearly all the players stayed on campus and got together for workouts and pickup games.

McNeal, who averaged 11.1 points a game last season, believes James will have no problem living up the hype he built by capturing the league's rookie of the year honors.

"Nobody has improved as much (as James)," McNeal said. "Other guys have improved, but he has made dramatic improvements. He is shooting the ball a lot better and is getting other people involved better."

James has almost identical compliments for his backcourt mate.

"Jerel is by far the most improved player on the team and will have a very productive year," James said. "He really improved his shooting and increased his intensity."

Coach Tom Crean has talked about using a four-guard lineup - similar to what Villanova did last season. Freshman Lazar Hayward, a top 100 recruit, could be the new guard added to the lineup.

"Lazar is very versatile," James said. "He can go inside or outside and shoots the ball unbelievably well."

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