It’s here.

The leaves are falling, the air has that unmistakable nip in it and everyone on the Hilltop is rummaging through his or her closet for scarves and gloves. Winter is here. And with winter comes the most phenomenal sport in all of existence. I’m talking about the squeaking of high-top sneakers on the freshly polished boards, the rhythmic thumping of a ball against the hardwood, starched white home uniforms and the smell of the gym. Oh yes, it is upon us. College basketball season is here, and all I can say is this: bring it on. That’s right, bring it on.

It’s time for bare-chested, war-painted hooligans screaming and cheering so loud that they can’t speak in class for the rest of the week. It’s time for a sea of blue and gray in the student section (I can dream, right?), bouncing and chanting with tribal intensity and letting Mike Brey know exactly what they think about those stylish mock turtlenecks of his.

I want to see handles so sick that defenders come out of their shoes. I want to see dunks so sick that when you see it, all you can do is cringe. Dunks that leave jaws stuck on the floor and make Stuart Scott say “boo-yah.” I want to see buzzer-beating three-pointers made by kids four years younger than I am. Oh yeah, that’s what I want.

It’s time for unfettered basketball. No contract negotiations, lockouts, salary caps or shoe deals. Just hoops. I want to see players grinding it out for 40 minutes a night knowing that only a select handful will ever get to play at the next level. Kids playing basketball because they love the game and respect the game.

And all of this leads up to the greatest event in sports: the NCAA basketball tournament. Nothing, and I mean nothing, even comes close. The Thursday and Friday games on the first week must cause a dip in worker productivity that rivals the blackout. Every March, Cinderella is reborn, and her slipper fits a different school every year. Oh thank goodness, it’s college hoops season again.

And that means it’s time for Georgetown basketball.

There are a lot of new names and a lot of new faces on the roster this year. I see a very, very different team. It’s a team without a dominant big man, something that this program is accustomed to having around. Ewing. Mourning. There’s no 6’8″ senior from Oxon Hill, Md., in the paint, and that changes everything.

This is a team that is going to have to run if it has any chance of winning, both on offense and on defense. They need to press and trap. I want to see a Nolan Richardson-esqe 40 minutes of hell. I want to see Larry Brown-style team defense. Georgetown used to play like they owned the ball, and when the other team had it, they went after it like a pack of rabid bulldogs. I want to see that.

They’re going to have to run on offense too. The press is going to have to create turnovers and buckets in transition. In complete contrast with last year’s plodding offensive strategy (was get the ball to Sweetney and if you can’t, panic), this team needs to pass effectively to get open looks.

There’s no one down low that’s going to draw the double anymore, so moving without the ball is imperative. They need to swing the ball around, keep it moving and create shots. Especially the three-ball. Coaches and players have both indicated that this team needs to shoot the three. Let’s see it.

But what this team needs more than anything is a leader. This is an extremely young (read: inexperienced) team. Causey, Reed and Cook are going to see a lot of time this year, and they need someone to help them get adjusted to playing at this level. This is something this team has lacked since Braswell left, and I just hope someone will step up. I think Gerald Riley can fill this void, but I hoped he would step up more last year, too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this season is going to be tough. But you know what, I think it might turn out well after all. If we play like we should – fast tempo, good ball movement, quality shooting – we might surprise people. At the very least, it should be fun to watch.

So get ready. Make sure the fridge is stocked, the remote is nearby and you’ve sent in the check for your season tickets. College basketball season is here, my friends, and it is something to revel in. Bring it on.

Mike Santore can be reached at santorethehoya.com. LACES OUT appears every Friday.

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