By GREG MENGELT
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Every once in a while, a college basketball team loses its star player to the NBA and somehow is better for it.
That’s the case for this year’s 16th-ranked Georgetown team. In a sport that is dominated by superstars, the Hoyas have survived — and thrived — after losing star forward Greg Monroe to the Detroit Pistons.
Instead of having everything go through Monroe, who was the seventh pick in last spring’s NBA Draft, Georgetown is spreading the ball around and it has resulted in a 7-0 start.
In the Hoyas’ most-recent win — a 111-102 overtime thriller over No. 9 Missouri — senior guard Austin Freeman scored 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 6-of-11 from the 3-point line, to help his team jump out to a big lead, and then overcame a five-point, second-half deficit in a game that truly had the feel of a late NCAA tournament game.
Fellow guards Chris Wright and Jason Clark scored 21 and 26 points, respectively, connecting on 16 of their 32 shots from the field. The Hoyas shot 71 percent from the field in the first half and most of their shots came from 15 feet and out.
Georgetown has the feel of last year’s national championship Duke team that scored the majority of its points on the perimeter and had players willing to do the dirty work. Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson and backup center Henry Sims aren’t just willing to do the dirty work for the Hoyas, they seem to love it.
The way Georgetown is playing this season, it is apparent that it is poised to put last year’s embarrassing 14-point, first-round NCAA tournament loss to Ohio behind it.
There’s no doubting Monroe’s talent, but there’s also no doubt this year’s Georgetown team is better than last year’s.
THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL LIST
Best Backcourt Duos
1. Freeman and Wright. Throw in Clark and the Hoyas’ backcourt makes them one of the few teams in America with a legitimate shot at winning the 2011 national title.
2. Kyrie Irving, Fr., and Nolan Smith, Sr., Duke. Irving is as good as his hype and he’s getting better with every game, including a 31-point performance in Wednesday’s win over Michigan State. Smith is as consistent as any player in America.
3. Kalin Lucas, Sr., and Korie Lucious, Jr., Michigan State. Lucas is the better scorer and Lucious is the superior passer, but both are capable of playing either guard position.
4. Alec Burks, So. and Corey Higgins, Jr., Colorado. Both are great scorers and exceptional rebounders for their guard positions.
5. Malcolm Grant, Jr. and Durand Scott, So., Miami (Fla.). The only thing this combination is missing is the will to take games over. If they get that, the Hurricanes will be a force in the ACC.
The Next 10: Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, BYU; Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton, Washington; Kwahi Leonard and D.J. Gay, San Diego State; Josh Selby and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas; Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, Villanova; Isaiah Canaan and B.J. Jenkins, Murray State; Kim English and Marcus Denmon, Missouri; Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh; Andrew Goudelock and Jeremy Simmons, College of Charleston; D.J. Cooper and Steven Coleman, Ohio.
Note: Any combination of Ohio State’s David Lighty, William Buford, and Jon Diebler would have been in the top four, but all three are considered combination guard/forwards.
SNAPSHOT POWER POLL
1. Duke. Michigan State finally make the Blue Devils look a tiny bit vulnerable.
2. Ohio State. From top to bottom, the Big Ten is proving to be the nation’s best conference and the Buckeyes appear to be the best of the best.
3. Pittsburgh. The Panthers are having no trouble with their pre-Big East schedule.
4. Georgetown. The Hoyas have wins over North Carolina State and Missouri. Coming up are tough games against Utah State, at Temple and at Memphis. Other Big East teams could learn from Georgetown’s schedule-maker.
5. Connecticut. Kemba Walker and the Huskies appear to be for real after wins over Kentucky and Michigan State.
6. Kansas. There’s no doubting the Jayhawks’ talent. Experience could be their downfall.
7. Missouri. The Tigers showed a lot of toughness in coming back against Georgetown. This could be the nation’s best team by March.
8. BYU. The Cougars haven’t been overly impressive, but Fredette has been as great as usual. He gives them the ability to win any game against any level of competition.
9. Notre Dame. After nice wins over Georgia, California and Wisconsin the past week, the Irish are one of five Big East teams to make this week’s Power Poll.
10. Syracuse. Some Syracuse fans pointed out that I was wrong last week when I wrote that the Orange don’t leave the state of New York until Jan. 8. Last week, they won two close games in Atlantic City, N.J., over poor Michigan and Georgia Tech squads. More will be known next week when they host North Carolina State and Michigan State.
Note: Syracuse plays all of its games in either New York or New Jersey between the beginning of the season and Jan. 15 when the Orangemen go to Cincinnati, apparently only because the Big East makes them.