Georgetown Basketball: What Experts Say About Hoyas' NCAA Tournament Chances
That full-fledged brawl in China, at first glance the height of embarrassment, has instead morphed into a bonding experience for the Georgetown basketball team.
Despite being unranked to start the season (the melee in Beijing took place during preseason), the Hoyas leaped out to a 13-1 start (unlike Xavier, which has gone 11-11 since that Dec. 10 Cincy brawl), a run that included key wins over then-ranked No. 12 Alabama (Dec. 1), No. 4 Louisville (Dec. 28), and No. 20 Marquette (Jan. 4).
John Thompson III has pulled his side up by the bootstraps the way he knows best: by instilling his basic tenets of defense, tough-nosed mentality, and efficient offense to blistering effect.
Making those wins against Alabama and Louisville even more impressive was the fact that the Hoyas took out both teams on the road–a fantastic sign of their tournament readiness.
Heading into this season, Georgetown was forced to cope with the losses of sharpshooter Austin Freeman—last season's leading scorer at 17.6 per game—point guard Chris Wright (12.9 points, 5.3 assists) and big man Julian Vaughn, who clocked in at 7.8 points and 6.1 rebounds.
That 2010-11 team had been upset in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season (in 2010, the No. 3-seeded Hoyas were shocked by No. 14 Ohio), dropping their opening round game to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth. (The Hoyas were a six seed).
The 74-56 beating suffered at the hands of the Rams was perhaps alleviated by the fact that VCU ended up in the Final Four, but the fact remained.
Since making it to the 2007 Final Four, however, Georgetown has managed to win just one tournament game.
When asked about what had to be done ahead of the 2011-12 season, head coach John Thompson III offered this statement:
“I think that once the season is over, you know, as a coach, as the head of a program, you go through introspection, and we’ll take time, and I’ll do that,” Thompson said. “A lot will be discussed about this group and what they have and haven’t done in the postseason. We’ll evaluate that.”
That one win will be looming ever larger over Thompson's head in the wake of Georgetown's loss to Cincinnati (small world) in the Big East tournament on March 8.
Georgetown finish their regular season with a 23-8 (12-6 Big East) record—far superior to their 21-10, 10-8 mark at this same point last season, but the questions remain: Can the Hoyas make a run in the NCAA's?
They are currently ranked No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and despite the loss to the Bearcats in the conference quarterfinals, they were granted a No. 3 seed.
Should fans be worried about another potential upset? After all, Georgetown was a 3-seed against Ohio, and they're a 3-seed again this season. Hmm..like they say, history doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme.
The Midwest is shaping up as a taxing road for Georgetown to travel, yet their rugged defense and systematic offense could also lead to a lengthy run.
After all, those two qualities were UCLA's bread and butter during their run of three consecutive Final Fours from 2006 to 2008.
Read on to see what the experts are saying about Georgetown's tourney chances this season.
As of March 8, famed ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Hoyas listed as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region, set to face off against 14-seeded Akron in the first round.
And a three seed they became. The only mix up is that they will face 14th-seeded Belmont.
Sound at all like 2010?
Their body of work spoke for itself: they head into the tournament 6-4 in their last 10 games, avoiding the type of meltdown that plagued them in seasons past, they boast a 7-5 record against teams in the RPI top 50, their strength of schedule is No. 14 in the nation, and their RPI is 15.
All numbers that held up to the spotlight on Selection Sunday.
Lunardi provided his projection for Georgetown as hinging on .
Eamonn Brennan, ESPN
Back in January, the ESPN blogger voiced some concern regarding the Hoyas in the wake of their 68-64 Jan. 9 loss to that same Cincinnati team.
Brennan referenced the propensity of the most recent Georgetown teams to fade down the stretch (the 2009-10 team lost four of its last six regular season games, and last season's bunch lost four of its last five), and wondered if the Cincinnati loss was an indication of another late-season slide coming up on the horizon.
After all, the Hoyas had been plagued by poor decision-making and an inability to get shots off down the stretch against a physical opponent, much like they'll see in March.
Georgetown improved incrementally this season down the stretch, going 5-4 over their last nine games, but that loss to Cincinnati will weigh heavily on fans' minds.
A premature close to the regular season was not what anyone wanted to see; especially one in which the Hoyas shot a robust 48.4 percent from the floor (30 of 62), and held the Bearcats to 38 percent shooting.
As Brennan noted in his article about that first loss to Cincy, that kind of hot shooting and stingy defense would normally lead to a win. But not for Georgetown. That makes it twice that's happened.
Still, there are reasons for optimism: Georgetown has good leadership (senior Jason Clark leads the team with 14 points per game, although his 0.78 assists-to-turnover ratio presents some cause for alarm, and Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims both average double figure points), and some very good young talent—who predicted freshman Otto Porter coming in and averaging 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds?
That leadership could go a long way come tourney time, but then Georgetown had three seniors on last season's team, and the 2009-10 edition had all-world freshman Greg Monroe.
One never knows with this team.
Brennan said the next four games following that Jan. 9 loss would be telling: against St. John's (road), DePaul (road), Rutgers (home), and Pitt (road), the Hoyas went 3-1.
Selection Sunday graced their team with a No. 3 seed, but before Hoyas fans go running to their nearest shrine to pray frantically against another embarrassing upset, they should consider the good from this season.
Brennan pegs Georgetown as a possible Elite Eight team, a distinction that is in large part credit to Georgetown's excellent team defense (held seven Big East opponents to under 50 points this season) and success in not suffering the sort of season-ending meltdown we saw in previous years.
As we saw last season, Belmont are a notoriously tricky customer, but as a 12 seed they bowed out 72-58 to Wisconsin despite being picked in many circles to upset the Badgers.
It's safe to assume Georgetown can expect a tough fight from the Bruins, but they should be able to slide past to the Round of 32 and a match up against either Kansas or Detroit.
Jason King, ESPN
Like his ESPN colleague Brennan, King was most worried about Georgetown's recent habit of fading down the stretch.
King voiced his concern ahead of the Hoyas' Feb. 1 match up with Uconn, which Georgetown went on to win 58-44.
Hollis Thompson poured-in 18 points in that one on 7 of 15 shooting, and grabbed nine boards. Perhaps most impressively, the Hoyas held UConn to 18 of 60 shooting from the field (30 percent) and 2 of 20 from three (10 percent).
That they allowed Andre Drummond to account for half of the Huskies' made field goals (the frosh was 9 of 12 from the field for 18 points), will cause some questions to be asked as to whether Georgetown has the requisite muscle to hang with big-bodied frontcourts in the tournament.
In his Midwest Region preview, King said Georgetown had every chance of losing in the second round to Belmont.
However, King noted that should the Hoyas withstand the pressure and get into the Round of 32, they will have the opportunity to take on (and perhaps beat) San Diego State.
Jerry Palm, CBS Sports
“They’re a good team, a very accomplished team," Palm said about Georgetown in a Feb. 24 Washington Post article. There’s not a whole lot negative. But they need to keep it going.”
To Palm's mind, Georgetown needed a strong finish to their final three regular season games (they went 2-1), coupled with a good run in the Big East tournament.
Consider it job sort-of well done.
Palm did say that he did not find any bad losses on the Hoyas' resume, and was impressed with their RPI (now 13th) and strength of schedule (now 10th).
The CBS Sports analyst believed two losses to close the regular season and a first-round exit in the Big East tourney could have dropped Georgetown as low as a No. 5 seed.
Luckily, the Hoyas did far better than that. A No. 3 seed still seems very possible.
Where they go from there is a matter of conjecture. Georgetown failed to take out Kansas and Syracuse this season, but did take care of a number of talented opponents.
Stan Heath, South Florida Head Coach
Who knows a team better than a coach who has spent hours scouring game tape, endlessly preparing for each player and possible moment in the game?
Stan Heath offered this assessment of Georgetown following his team's 30-point loss (75-45) to the Hoyas on Feb. 4, a game in which his Bulls had committed 17 turnovers and shot just 16 of 51 from the floor (31.4 percent.)
“They were more talented last year,” Heath said. "But [they] are a much better team this year.”
Senior center Henry Sims said that last season, things were far from rosy in the locker room despite the presence of three seniors. Sometimes age means egos, not leadership.
“This year we’ve just bought into the philosophy of playing hard, playing defense together,” Sims said.
“Being a team on the court, being able to pick each other up on the court, being able to talk to each other on the court. I think it’s just a different mindset, a different environment, a different philosophy, that we’ve brought this year as opposed to the last few years.”
Heath must have acknowledged Georgetown's airtight defense (they held seven Big East opponents under 50 points this season), and realized that sometimes an infusion of youth can be instrumental to success (Georgetown have just those two seniors and one junior).
Just ask Kentucky.
Jay Bilas, ESPN
Perhaps the most unforeseen comedian in the history of television analysts, Jay Bilas wrote a piece recently discussing Georgetown's surprising success this season.
Given that the Hoyas were unranked at the start of 2011-12, their current No. 13 ranking has not only surprised, but thoroughly befuddled many an observer.
The former Duke player and current ESPN analyst had a first-hand view of the Hoyas during the early portion of the season, when he covered the Maui Invitational.
Bilas said that John Thompson III came over to Bilas and his broadcasting crew and said:
"We're going to be good. I don't know when, but we are going to be good."
As Bilas put it, that was a severe undersell from the Hoyas' head coach.
The former collegiate big man is always a fan of hard-nosed forwards, from Gonzaga's Elias Harris on down. (Sorry for the ESPN Insider link).
It makes sense, then, that Bilas would rave about Hoyas forward Otto Porter, who has all the qualities the analyst admires most in players.
In an email, Bilas said this about the freshman from Morley, Mo.:
"Otto Porter is a terrific young player," ESPN analyst Bilas said in an email. "He is long-armed, athletic, can shoot it and has a really high skill level. Porter really understands how to play and to compete at a high level, and he was prepared to step-in and compete right away. He is the complete package, and with experience and strength added, he can be a special player at Georgetown."
It remains to be seen what Porter can bring in the tournament.
Seth Davis, CBS Sports
There are a number of experts who are casting an uncertain eye toward the Hoyas' chances, however.
CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis has Belmont in his Sweet 16, a path that would be crossed via an upset of Georgetown.
Davis's pick has the Bruins getting past Kansas as well, so his pick appears to not be as much a condemnation of Georgetown as a testament to Belmont's talent.
The Bruins, after all, were a trendy upset pick last season against Wisconsin, and they have a penchant for playing good teams tough.
Andy Katz and Doug Gottlieb, ESPN
"As soon as [the bracket] came out, I felt bad for Georgetown," Doug Gottlieb said during a breakdown of the Midwest region.
Gottlieb praised Belmont's ability to play top-tiered teams tough, and noted that if they can speed up the pace of the game against the Hoyas, they are more than capable of an upset.
And thus, send Georgetown back to the nation's capital with yet another underwhelming showing.
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