Graphic by Charles Nailen/The Hoya /The Hoya Head Coach Craig Esherick held a press conference yesterday to discuss rumors and realities.

To hear full audio of Coach Esherick’s interview, check out the audio page at Full Court Press

Tomorrow, Georgetown faces a critical midseason test against Big East rival Pittsburgh at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Panthers (14-1, 4-0) enter tomorrow’s game ranked No. 2 in the nation, the school’s highest ranking in 15 years. They are an experienced squad led by the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, senior point guard Brandin Knight.

Though tomorrow’s game is as big as any the Hoyas (10-4, 2-2) will play all season, a lot of talk this week among Hoyas’ fans has centered around an off-the-court issue. On Sunday, a day after Georgetown squandered a large second half lead and fell to St. John’s 77-72, The Washington Times reported that Head Coach Craig Esherick was set to sign a contract extension. Esherick’s current contract runs through the end of the 2005 season. Reportedly, this extension would continue his contract through the 2009 season.

A day later, The Washington Post quoted Georgetown Athletic Director Joe Lang as saying that making the NCAA Tournament every year was “an unreasonable” expectation. Both reports, along with the Hoyas’ struggles early in the conference season, sparked frustration among many Georgetown fans. Esherick, however, had no interest in discussing either issue yesterday, preferring instead to focus on tomorrow’s game.

“Don’t even go there,” Esherick said when asked about Lang’s comments. “You want to talk about Pitt, I’ll talk about Pitt. First of all, I don’t speak for him [Lang]. He is my boss. He speaks for himself. I don’t interpret what he says.”

When asked about the possibility of a contract extension, Esherick responded again that he was only interested in talking about the Pittsburgh game.

“I wouldn’t even think about talking to anybody about contract negotiations,” Esherick said. “If I sign one I would tell you, but I wouldn’t talk about it and it’s probably not my place to talk about it. It’s the President of the University’s or the Athletic Director’s job to talk about that. But I plan on being here for awhile.”

The game tomorrow presents Georgetown with an opportunity to pick up a victory that would greatly aid their NCAA Tournament resume. But a win will be very hard to come by against this Pitt team. The Panthers are undefeated this year in the brand new Peterson Center. Overall, they have won 17 straight games at home as well as 13 straight Big East regular season games. Since a 79-67 loss at Georgia on Dec. 31, Pittsburgh has won five in a row, including a 72-55 home win over then No. 6 Notre Dame. In their most recent game last Saturday, they knocked off Big East West Division rival Syracuse 73-60. Pitt held Syracuse’s standout freshman forward Carmelo Anthony to only 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting.

The Panthers are a very experienced squad. Junior Julius Page starts in the backcourt along with Knight. Page scored 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting against the Orangemen Saturday. On the season, he leads the team averaging nearly 13 points per game.

Pittsburgh’s frontcourt is just as battle-tested as the two guards. Senior Donatus Zavackus, junior Jaron Brown and senior Ontario Lett start for the Panthers. Lett is Pittsburgh’s leading rebounder with an average of 5.9 boards per game.

Pitt is probably the best defensive team in the Big East. It has allowed 57.4 points per game so far this season, easily the best scoring defense in the conference. In last year’s 67-56 win at home, the Panther defense completely stifled the Hoyas. Georgetown, after leading by two at halftime, shot 5-of-27 in the second half. Junior forward Mike Sweetney was held to only six points in one of his worst games of the season.

“I thought that Pitt did a real good job keeping the ball out of Mike’s hands, both in man and zone [defense], particularly in zone,” Esherick said. “If they do a play a zone, we have to do a much better job getting the ball into ike and we have to do a much better job of hitting our outside shots when they give us our outside shots.”

Despite Pitt’s status as one of the nation’s elite teams this year, the Hoyas do not want to treat this game as more important than others during the conference season.

“It’s a long season,” senior center Wesley Wilson said. “Pitt’s just another team in the Big East. But we take them seriously because we know they’re good.”

Tip-off is set for noon tomorrow.

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