SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – One of the challenges facing teams in the seventh annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off is simply handling the lengthy trip to San Juan. But that is not an issue for the Georgetown Hoyas. Their 1,500-mile flight to the island must seem like a stroll around the block compared to the 14,000-mile, roundtrip excursion they took to play a game on a U.S. Army base in South Korea earlier this month.
“That was an incredible experience, and it meant so much more than the actual game,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose team lost to Oregon 82-75 in the Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 8, but bounced back just five days later at home to defeat Wright State 88-70. “It was invaluable for our guys just to see and be a part of that.”
Thompson said the Puerto Rico Tip-Off will provide another good test for his team. The Hoyas begin the tournament by playing Northeastern (1-2) Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Atlantic Time (12:30 p.m. ET) on ESPNU.
“No matter where you look at the field that’s been assembled, it’s challenging,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be tested each and every night. It’s a great field. As a fan you’re going to get a chance to see some good ball, and as a coach you just hope you can survive. You’re going to play three quality games. Everyone who is in this tournament is going to have to be on point and play well to succeed.”
That is certainly how Northeastern coach Bill Cohen looks at it, especially when it comes to facing Georgetown’s imposing frontcourt. The Huskies’ tallest player is 6-foot-8, while Georgetown has five players who top that height. The Hoyas’ trio of Nate Lubick, Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith have combined to grab 35 rebounds in the first two games of the season.
“I don’t know if we have an answer for that just yet,” Cohen said when asked about the Hoyas’ frontcourt. “They’ve been playing really, really well. They have a tradition of always having great frontcourts. We’ll probably have to play some zone and try to keep the ball from getting in there.”
In an attempt to look for any advantage possible, Cohen said he hopes his team can garner some local support, since Northeastern’s most famous basketball alum, NBA player J.J. Barea, is a native of Puerto Rico. “I think there is a lot of sense of pride surrounding J.J. in Puerto Rico,” Cohen said. “Hopefully those fans will come out and support us and be Northeastern fans for a day.”
Cary Estes is covering his fourth Puerto Rico Tip-Off. A freelance writer living in Birmingham, Estes spent 15 years working as a sportswriter for daily newspapers, mostly at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Estes has been a fulltime freelancer since 2006 and has continued covering sports for Associated Press, nbcsports.com, SI.com (NASCAR) and several daily newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Observer and Cincinnati Enquirer.