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The Hoyas will need sophomore guard Austin Freeman to perform consistently in the tough Big East.

Hoya faithful may know before the end of Christmas break if Georgetown will be a pretender or a contender.

The league announced its 2008-09 schedule yesterday, revealing a slate that has the Hoyas playing three teams with legitimate chances to win the conference – Connecticut on Dec. 29, Pittsburgh on Jan. 3 and Notre Dame on Jan. 5 – all within the first week.

ESPN’s Andy Katz’s summer top 25 puts Connecticut at No. 15, Pitt at No. 2 and Notre Dame at No. 4.

It may take just seven days for Georgetown to seal its Big East fate this season.

Other highlights of this year’s league schedule include playing host to Syracuse on Jan. 14, a trip to Marquette on Jan. 31, a battle at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 14, a midweek jaunt to South Florida four days later, a second bout with Marquette on Feb. 21 and a Big Monday matchup with heavyweight Louisville on Feb. 23. The regular season ends at home against DePaul on March 7.

Along with the release of the league schedule comes confirmation of what will likely be the two highest-profile non-conference games: a 2 p.m. home game on Dec. 13 against Memphis and an afternoon visit to Duke on Jan. 17. CBS will televise both games.

ESPN has already committed to broadcasting eight of the Hoyas’ 16 league games, and regional affiliates of the Worldwide Leader will probably pick up a handful of others.

Even with several out-of-conference games yet to be announced, it is already clear that Georgetown will play its most brutal pre-Jan. 1 schedule in quite some time. The Hoyas will compete in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, in which they will face Wichita State in the first round, Siena or Tennessee (both tournament teams last year) in the second round, and either Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma State or Gonzaga in the third round – possibly the finals – of the eight-team tournament.

On Dec. 6, Georgetown faces off against American, the defending Patriot League champ, and then takes on the Tigers, who are coming off of a trip to the national title game, a week later. Last season, Georgetown lost at Memphis, 85-71, on Dec. 22 and then defeated American, 78-51, a week later.

For a team with just a lone senior and one junior, there will be precious little time for Head Coach John Thompson III’s famous “baby steps” early in the season. Should the Hoyas falter against their high-profile early-season opponents, Georgetown could jeopardize its Big East tournament seeding, its chances of securing a bye, and even its shot at the NCAA tournament, though with so many talented young players, the latter should not truly be in doubt.

Also of note is the preponderance of exciting games taking place during school vacations. The Old Spice Classic, played at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, comes during Thanksgiving break. The Memphis home game is squarely in the middle of exams, the trip to Connecticut is four days after Christmas, the home opener against a tough Panthers team falls just two days after New Years and the battle at Notre Dame – in which Georgetown may be seeking to end a lengthy Irish home winning streak – is also over holiday break. What’s more, the season’s final home game takes place during spring break.

Still, this season’s slate of Verizon Center games should be better than last year’s. Most students will likely still be around to see a Memphis team which should still be competitive, and once students return, they will be able to see Syracuse, West Virginia, an improved Rutgers team, the Golden Eagles and probably best of all, Louisville, ranked No. 5 by Katz.

The rest of Georgetown’s schedule will likely be released within a week.

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