After consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, Georgetown was mired in a shooting slump and looked vulnerable in the middle of a brutal stretch of schedule. But a 14-point win over Syracuse (16-2, 4-1 Big East) Wednesday night makes those two losses seem light years away and makes Saturday’s tilt at No. 3 Duke (15-1, 3-0 ACC) look more like a heavyweight fight than another Cameron romp for the home team.

With just two upperclassmen in the rotation, Georgetown is exceptionally young this year, but it has succeeded against one of the hardest schedules in the nation. That statistic is boosted right now by the stretch the Hoyas are in, playing five top-12 teams over six games.

“Our out-of-conference schedule this year was difficult by design. Our in-conference schedule was extremely difficult,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “We didn’t go out and say, `Hey, let’s play the hardest schedule.’ It’s an inexact science. It varies from year to year depending on what kind of experiences I think the team needs.”

Thompson must have thought that in order to win late in the season, his green squad would have to face more experienced, top-flight teams to learn how to win. Early in the season, Thompson’s gauntlet looked like too much with freshmen guard Jason Clark and center Henry Sims failing to make significant contributions from the Hoyas’ short bench.

Georgetown showed weaknesses in its loss to Tennessee over Thanksgiving – mainly a short bench and difficulty dealing with longer opponents on the glass. Georgetown won against Memphis, but the Tigers had their way on the glass for all 40 minutes and nearly pulled out a last-second victory. Only freshman center Greg Monroe looked natural in his transition to the college game.

With a semester of learning under their belt, Sims, Clark and Monroe have shined in recent games, with each making key contributions in the Hoyas’ two consecutive wins.

Saturday will be another top-10 matchup on Georgetown’s schedule, but the first test for a team playing at its peak. Thompson-coached teams have always performed better later in the season, and the Blue Devils are catching Georgetown as the Hoyas are playing their best.

Despite not scoring a field goal until the second half against Syracuse, Monroe looks like he is at his best right now. Against Syracuse and Providence, Monroe moved effortlessly inside, attracting swarms of would-be defenders before hitting an open teammate with a precision pass. Junior forward DaJuan Summers has developed as the Hoyas’ best pure scorer, taking pressure off of Monroe to force shots or to do too much.

Duke primarily plays man-to-man defense, which should be good news for Monroe and the bevy of Georgetown cutters, but Duke’s man-to-man is one of the few that has frustrated Georgetown’s offense. The Blue Devils do a good job of helping inside by playing off of the offensive player farthest from the ball. That helping defender can disrupt an open man cutting to the basket, though he is vulnerable if the cutter can make a pass out of the paint.

The Hoyas do not have a long history against Duke, but the two teams fit together in ways more intriguing than Duke’s defense matching perfectly against Georgetown’s offense. Both teams have four starters hitting balanced double figures in scoring and both commit nearly 20 turnovers per game. Duke and Georgetown shoot the same percentage from the floor, free-throw line and three-point line. The schools must be similar in other ways as well: Monroe strongly considered Duke last year before picking the Hilltop, much to the chagrin of Blue Devils fans.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll have something waiting for me when I get there,” Monroe said. “I’m pretty sure that Duke will have something to say when I walk in the gym.”

Georgetown-Duke is still bigger in D.C. than in Durham. At the end of the win over Syracuse, Georgetown fans were chanting, “We want Duke!” Duke fans do not circle Georgetown fans on their calendars and chant, “We want Georgetown!”

Compared to Duke’s last decade, Georgetown is still getting used to being back in the national top-10, so a chance at Duke still has tinges of David versus Goliath and is always a big stage for a game.

“It’s going to be crazy, but each game in the Big East is like that, it’s just a different look,” Summers said. “I remember the game we played them when I wasn’t here, my senior year of high school, and that was a great game. It was exciting. . I rushed the court and everything. I had a good time.”

Tip-off is set for 1:30 p.m., Saturday. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS and can be heard on 980 AM

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