In November, Georgetown and Louisville were riding side-by-side atop the Big East and among the college basketball elite. The league coaches selected them as co-favorites to win the conference title. The Hoyas were ranked fifth in the nation, the Cardinals sixth.

Then the two came to a fork in the road. Louisville’s star center David Padgett fractured his knee cap, senior Juan Palacios missed the first nine games with a torn MCL and forward Derrick Caracter was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. The Cards lost to Brigham Young and Dayton. They fell from the top 25 and dropped their conference opener to Cincinnati. The Hoyas, on the other hand, were cruising. They won 19 of their first 21 games and established a sizable lead with a 9-1 mark in the topsy-turvy Big East.

Saturday, Georgetown and Louisville will meet on the same road again, racing toward the regular season finish line. Both stand at 14-3 in the Big East, with the Hoyas ranked 11th and the Cardinals 12th. The teams are even after Georgetown stumbled in several road contests, and Louisville, now at full strength, strung together its current nine-game winning streak. The rematch at Verizon Center – the Cardinals won the first contest 59-51 at home on Feb. 9 – will decide the outright winner of the Big East and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

When the two came to the fork in the figurative road, Louisville certainly took the road less traveled to the top of the Big East. “On Jan. 1 we were in last place in the conference,” Padgett told The Courier Journal. “On March 2 we’re tied for first. That’s not usually the route you take to a championship.”

“Everybody thinks it’s over when it’s the first 10 yards of the race,” Pitino said of his team’s detours en route to the top of league. “Fortunately, we don’t subscribe to that.”

A win would give Georgetown its first back-to-back Big East titles in school history, but for the Hoyas, the game means so much more. It will be senior day at Verizon Center, and Georgetown will honor one of the greatest classes to ever don the blue and gray.

As Head Coach John Thompson III’s first freshman class, not one of Tyler Crawford, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert or Jonathan Wallace was highly touted out of high school. Wallace was just a walk-on, and Hibbert was simply a gangly 7-footer.

But in just three years, the group – with the help of transfer Patrick Ewing Jr. – reached the Final Four. Green was taken fifth in last year’s NBA draft, and the group’s talent is now unquestioned.

“They are remarkable people,” Thompson told The Washington Times. “They came in to an uncertain situation and gave themselves completely to the notion of team. I don’t think I’ve ever had an entire group understand and commit themselves as selflessly from day one.”

Wallace, who was told he had little chance of ever seeing the floor when he first followed Thompson from Princeton to the Hilltop, has started all 130 games in his career. He is the school’s most prolific three-point shooter and has shown a penchant for late-game heroics. In the Hoyas’ Elite Eight game against North Carolina last year, the point guard drilled a three-pointer with 31 seconds left to tie the game and help Georgetown to the Final Four. Most recently, Wallace hit three free throws with 2.8 seconds left to send Georgetown’s game against Marquette to overtime last Saturday.

Crawford and Ewing, the team’s sparkplugs, exemplify the Hoyas’ energy and work ethic. Both players come off the bench and are known for their hustle plays – good defense, rebounding and diving for loose balls.

After Ewing soared to block a shot in the waning seconds of a win over West Virginia in January, Thompson said, “Forget all the discussions about whether it was a good block or bad block. Just the effort to help his team – that epitomizes what he’s done here.”

The pair is also known for their tempers. Although official statistics are not kept for technical fouls, Crawford and Ewing certainly lead the Hoyas in the category. In a December game against Radford, both picked up technicals even though the game was never in doubt and the Hoyas won by 59 points. But Crawford and Ewing are not dirty or cheap players by any means – their physical play and passion sometimes boil over. Crawford even earned the nickname Bam Bam for his physical nature.

ore than any of his teammates, though, Hibbert epitomizes the senior class. Through determination and a work ethic that makes Hercules look like a slacker, the 7-foot-2 center went from an awkward freshman to one of the best players in the nation. Though he would have likely been a lottery pick in last year’s NBA draft, Hibbert elected to return to Georgetown for his senior season. The move exemplified the desire to bring Georgetown back to national prominence, something that the Class of ’08 has been responsible for over the past four years.

Saturday against Louisville, the seniors will need to have big games for the Hoyas to beat the streaking Cardinals. With their teammates struggling of late – sophomore DaJuan Summers is shooting 33.3 percent in his last seven games, freshman Austin Freeman rolled his ankle in practice a week ago and junior Jessie Sapp went scoreless in 17 minutes of action against Marquette – the seniors will need to put the Hoyas on their backs.

“We don’t want to end with a bunch of losses or things regretting,” Ewing said after Georgetown beat Providence two weeks ago. “We feel like it’s gonna come to the end of our senior season, and we want to end on a good note.”

It will be up to the seniors to shift into a higher gear for the Hoyas to finally speed past the Cardinals in the race for Big East supremacy.

Free Throws:

– The Hoyas are 15-0 at home this season. The last time Georgetown went undefeated at home was the 1995-96 season.

– The Athletic Department has teamed up with Nike for the Nike Dunk promotion to reward Hoya fans for their dedication. The promotion will give out 150 limited edition shoes to a random drawing of students in line for the noon game before 10 a.m. The shoe is a Georgetown specific version of the Nike Dunk.

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