In a dramatic shift from previous years, this season’s Georgetown men’s basketball schedule is stacked with quality opponents. For those of you who don’t spend every waking moment thinking about the upcoming season, the big names on the schedule are Virginia, Duke, UCLA and Pittsburgh. South Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse and St. John’s aren’t half-bad either. And while Georgetown plays a couple of Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference schools this year, some of last season’s RPI-killing cupcakes have been replaced by halfway-decent programs like James Madison.

Head Coach Craig Esherick, however, still isn’t sure he likes this winter’s lineup. He has wondered out loud whether playing this schedule will actually improve Georgetown’s chances of getting back to the NCAA tournament. Theoretically, the Hoyas could lose to South Carolina, Virginia and Duke before even starting conference play, where they have to face Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame twice each. That’s nine easy losses to begin with. Add that to the fact that Georgetown has a history of playing poorly against teams like Rutgers and the Hoyas could be in a little bit of trouble.

I, however, am not expecting this to happen. From a senior student and fan’s point of view, I am confident this will be the best season of basketball on the Hilltop in my four years. Not because I have confidence that the team will perform well – so far I only have confidence that Mike Sweetney will score at will against everyone. This year will be great for the fans of Georgetown basketball because of the schedule. Because if you schedule it, they will come, the “they” being students.

My freshman year, we played only two decent teams outside the Big East: Florida and North Carolina in the Maui Invitational. I’m pretty sure everyone on my floor who had cable watched those two games. When UConn came to MCI Center that season, the Hoyas were 2-3 in conference and looked destined for the NIT. The student section at MCI, however, was packed because the Huskies were the defending national champions, and everyone wanted to see if we could knock them off.

Georgetown lost the game by 19 points, but the significance is that students showed up for the game in large numbers. The problem was, half the state of Connecticut showed up at the MCI Center as well that Saturday. Fans from the DC area bought tickets to see the Hoyas play the defending national champions as well. Not because the Hoyas were any good – they weren’t – but to see a good game and a potential upset.

This year things are slightly different, because the program has improved greatly over the past three years. The Hoyas should beat the Gamecocks in their first big game of the season, and they should test the Cavs and the Bruins as well. Duke might annihilate Georgetown in Durham on Jan. 8, but I’ve been calling friends, family, and people I barely know since early this summer, asking how I can get into the student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

When there’s this much excitement surrounding the big games of the season, students will go to the little games as well. Well, they might not show up for Coastal Carolina, considering that the game won’t be played at McDonough Gymnasium this season and everyone will have already started studying for finals, but they’ll probably show up for Rutgers during the spring semester. I know I sure will.

The fact that the students, and hopefully local fans as well, are going to show up to games this season will help the team on the court. When Georgetown beat Syracuse in late Feb. at the MCI Center in 2000-01, in the most important home game in my four years here, the crowd was strongly behind the Hoyas. While the team ultimately triumphed because of strong individual efforts, I wouldn’t say that the crowd hurt the cause.

In previous years, columnists for this newspaper have issued pleas for students to attend unpopular home games, lofty theories about how getting behind the team brings Georgetown closer to utopia. It doesn’t work, as I learned by trying to sell Georgetown football earlier this fall. Columnists can’t sell tickets to smart basketball fans. Neither can the Sports Information Department. Students at this university tend to buy basketball tickets only when they are guaranteed a good game. This season, they are guaranteed quite a few of those, and that should pay off, not only for them, but for Craig Esherick and the men’s basketball team as well.

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