Georgetown is back – back in the spotlight, back in the rankings, back in the game.

While the rest of the Georgetown student body was on winter break, the men’s basketball team leapt into the national hoops scene. With a 16-0 record and a No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press poll, the Hoyas are off to their best start in 15 years and are poised to make their best start ever. With wins in its next three contests against Pittsburgh, UNLV and Notre Dame, Georgetown could top the 18-0 start by the 1984-1985 squad led by Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85).

But more important than the records set are the promises of things still to come. For the first time since Allen Iverson’s reign ended four years ago, Hoya fans have realistic hopes to make the NCAA Tournament. Excitement about the Hoyas is growing on campus and off, ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1996 and the Iverson era.

And after the early hype some critics decried as overrated and overblown, the Hoyas are proving they are for real, sealing their top 10 position with a solid 99-91 win over No. 18 Seton Hall last onday at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

The win over the Pirates proved that the Hoyas’ success is not fleeting. Instead, the Hoyas have shown that they are a team to be taken seriously. With quickly developing maturity from the leaders and exploding depth from the bench, the Georgetown squad is once again grabbing national attention.

The Hoyas coasted through much of their early December schedule, easily finishing off smaller regional schools like Coastal Carolina and Maryland-Eastern Shore by margins of 18 points or more, and crushing Grambling State 88-51.

But even in the Big East, a longtime powerhouse conference, the Hoyas have proven dominant. Georgetown opened conference play with confidence, easily downing West Virginia 90-66 at the West Virginia Coliseum Jan. 3. Continuing to run through their Big East opponents, Georgetown bested new conference member Virginia Tech 96-68 after toppling then-No. 11 Seton Hall 78-66, both at MCI Center.

The two Seton Hall wins have been the most definite signs that this is not the same Georgetown that suffered an abysmal 60-49 loss to California in last year’s National Invitation Tournament or that fell to Princeton 57-54 in the 1999 NIT.

This is a fresh squad and under the direction of Head Coach Craig Esherick, and they are going places.

The Hoyas’ biggest improvement this season has been seen in their shooting. Offensively, they are a hard-hitting team, from the skilled outside shooting of junior guard Kevin Braswell and freshman forward Gerald Riley to the tenacious inside play of senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and freshman forward Michael Sweetney. Just to emphasize the team’s versatility, 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Demetrius Hunter made his own mark with a monster dunk over Seton Hall’s Eddie Griffin Monday night. On the floor, Braswell directs the offense with a deft hand while Boumtje-Boumtje and Sweetney provide the power down low.

Backing up the starters is a deep bench squad that seems to be improving with each game. Senior guard Anthony Perry has gained confidence in shooting and is seeing increased playing time. Senior bigman Lee Scruggs rejoined the team on Dec. 22 after missing nine games due to academic ineligibility. Since his return, Scruggs has exhibited the shooting ability that saw him averaging 10.7 points per game last season. Senior swingman Nathaniel Burton has quietly been a force on the floor while sophomore center Wesley Wilson has exhibited a solid shooting effort.

Together, the team has a spark that has been absent from Hoya basketball for a while.

Yet some critics have not finished with the Hoyas, claiming that Georgetown’s schedule lacks enough real challenges. This Saturday, Georgetown will square off against Pittsburgh (10-6, 2-3), led by guard Ricardo Greer, one of the top 25 players in the nation. After that, the biggest challenges facing the team are Notre Dame (10-5, 2-2), a wild card in the Big East this year led by forward Troy Murphy, and No. 9 Syracuse (15-1, 4-0), a longtime Georgetown rival. The Hoyas will face the Orangemen twice this season, on Jan. 29 at the Carrier Dome and on Feb. 24 at MCI Center.

Still, nothing is certain. The Big East tends to be a volatile league, and nothing demonstrated that more than the surprising 76-72 Georgetown victory over Syracuse in last season’s Big East Tournament.

Big East fans can only be certain of one thing right now – the Hoyas are back.

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