WASHINGTON -- There's a misconception about Georgetown's first-round game in the West regional of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.
It's not Sunday against top seed, unbeaten and defending champion Nevada-Las Vegas. It's Friday against ninth-seed Vanderbilt (17-12) at the McHale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
The eighth-seeded Hoyas have heard all the talk about their made-for-television matchup with the Runnin' Rebels -- this one has mega-ratings written all over it -- but are thinking only about the Commodores.
Or at least trying to not look ahead to a possible second-round matchup with UNLV. The NCAA tournament begins Thursday at four sub-regional sites, including College Park.
"Psychologically, there's a danger in the Vanderbilt game in the constant mentioning of Nevada-Las Vegas," Georgetown coach John Thompson said yesterday at McDonough Arena. "I'm going to have to constantly remind them that they can't pay attention to what they hear. We don't have the kind of power team that we can look past anybody."
Georgetown (18-12) is coming into its 13th straight NCAA tournament with a lot more confidence than it had a week ago, when its invitation was in doubt and its collective psyche was in shambles.
Even Sunday's 74-62 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden couldn't take the rejuvenated feeling Georgetown got from its victories there over Connecticut and Providence.
"I think we're playing really well," said freshman point guard Joey Brown. "As a team we're really focused. Before the [Big East] tournament, a lot of people were talking us going to the NIT. We didn't even think about that and now we're thinking about the NCAA tournament."
Thompson said that his team's performance in New York, coming after the Hoyas struggled down the stretch of the regular season, didn't surprise him. In fact, he said he told the Hoyas before they left campus last week that they would win the tournament.
"I thought we would play well in the Big East," said Thompson, who was accompanied at practice yesterday by filmmaker Spike Lee (or as Thompson introduced him, "You know Mars Blackmon.") "I said to them, I think we're going to fool a lot of people."
There aren't many who say the Hoyas will beat UNLV. Then again, there are some who say Georgetown won't even get to play the Runnin' Rebels. In a different way, Vanderbilt could be as problematical as Xavier was in the second-round last year in Indianapolis.
While the Musketeers were strong inside, the Commodores are strong outside. They led the Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting (41.3 percent on 224 of 543). The closest Big East team to Vanderbilt is Providence, which the Hoyas defeated twice in three games this season.
"Vanderbilt is going to come out and try to move our offense out far [from the basketball] and make us make mistakes," said Thompson. "They shoot 40 percent from the three-point line. We're not shooting 40 percent on the layup line."
Then again, the Commodores have not faced a team with Georgetown's size. Though they were able to beat Louisiana State and Shaquille O'Neal, the Tigers' 7-1, 295-pound All-American center, the Hoyas have the biggest front line in the tournament with 6-10 junior forward Alonzo Mourning and 7-1 senior center Dikembe Mutombo.
Mourning, who struggled after missing more than a month during the middle of the season with a strained arch in his left foot, has put together a string of four dominating performances. In that stretch he has averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Mutombo had a Big East record 27 rebounds in Georgetown's tournament semifinal victory over the Friars.
"You're not talking about two good big guys, you're talking about two No. 1 draft picks, maybe lottery picks," Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler said yesterday from Nashville, Tenn.
Asked if he thought Georgetown might be looking past his team, Fogler said, "Knowing John, I'm sure they're not. I don't know if there's any psychological advantage playing them."
As much as Thompson can warn his players not to look past Friday's game, the plain truth is that it will be very difficult. Everywhere they go, the Hoyas are asked about how they would play UNLV.
"If we meet UNLV, it's going to be one of the best games in the country," said Mutombo.
But first things first. Now, who is Georgetown playing?