WEB LESLIE/THE HOYA Sophomore forward Otto Porter needs another season like his breakout 2011-12.

WEB LESLIE/THE HOYA
Sophomore forward Otto Porter needs another season like his breakout 2011-12.

Last year, a young Georgetown men’s basketball team exceeded all expectations by going 24-9 and making the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Now, they have to do it all over again.

Guard Jason Clark and center Henry Sims graduated last spring, and the Hoyas also lost junior forward Hollis Thompson to the NBA. They will begin this season with no seniors, no returning double-digit scorers and a huge question mark at center.

Because of the team’s youth, analysts who have dared to speculate about the upcoming season predict a middling year for the Blue and Gray — ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, for example, has Georgetown pegged as a No. 8 seed in his early Bracketology projections.

There’s no denying that the Hoyas are green, but many of the key players in last season’s unexpected success are returning for at least one more year. Sophomore forward Otto Porter, in particular, has wowed scouts at summer leagues and skills camps and would likely be a first-round pick in the NBA draft should he declare after this season.

Georgetown’s other best returning weapon is Head Coach John Thompson III. The son of the legendary John Thompson Jr. turned in a masterful coaching performance last season, employing the considerable length of Porter and fellow sophomore forward Greg Whittington to form an unorthodox but nearly impenetrable 2-3 zone defense. At times, four of five players on the court stood 6-foot-8 or higher.

The improvement of junior point guard Markel Starks and emergence of freshman combo guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will likely force Thompson III to run with a more traditional lineup this year, but the Blue and Gray should still boast a staunch defense.

The uncertainty lies in scoring: Porter averaged 9.7 points per game last year, but rarely created his own shot. Starks has a nose for the rim but gets in early foul trouble often. Thompson III will need Whittington and Smith-Rivera to step up on the offensive end for the Hoyas to surprise critics again.

All of this remains speculation until Nov. 9, however, when Georgetown opens up its 2012-13 campaign against Florida in spectacular fashion aboard the USS Bataan, an aircraft carrier anchored at Jacksonville, Fla.’s Mayport Naval Station.

After the tip-off, the Blue and Gray will not catch a break. The nonconference slate includes games against Texas and Tennessee, as well as an appearance in the Legends Classic alongside powerhouses Indiana and UCLA.

If the Hoyas can pull out a few big wins from the bruising November lineup, they will likely be nationally ranked at the start of the Big East campaign. Marquette, Pittsburgh and Louisville will all visit Verizon Center this year, but the marquee event is undeniably a showdown with archrival Syracuse in March.

Because the Orange are leaving the league for the ACC at the end of the season, it will be the last chance the Hoya faithful have to jeer at orange-clad New Yorkers in the Verizon Center rafters, at least for a while.

With so many variables, this team could go to the Final Four, miss the tournament entirely or — most likely — end up somewhere in between. The team is young and the schedule daunting, but Thompson III’s reign on the Hilltop has been characterized by nothing if not defying expectations — both good and bad. Fans should expect a wild ride.

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