Georgetown Hoyas Are 1 Win Away from Punching Unlikely Ticket to NCAA TournamentMarch 13, 2021
The Mecca of basketball will be at the epicenter of the 2021 men's NCAA tournament bubble Saturday night when Georgetown takes on Creighton at Madison Square Garden for the Big East championship.
For those who haven't been properly indoctrinated in the lexicon of bracketology, here's a phrase you're going to want to get comfortable with for the next 24 hours: bid thief.
A bid thief is a team that would not have earned an at-large bid without winning its conference tournament, and that wins that tournament to "steal" the automatic bid in a conference that had at least one lock to make the NCAA tournament. As a result, the number of spots available to at-large teams shrinks by one.
Thus far this week, those bid thieves have been nonexistent, which is fantastic news for teams on the bubble.
Gonzaga and Loyola-Chicago won the West Coast and Missouri Valley conference tournaments, as expected. Both the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West have championship games between teams that were likely to make the Big Dance anyway. The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC are all down to teams that were, at worst, on the bubble heading into this week.
Oregon State has emerged as a potential bid thief after knocking off Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals, but we'll see if the Beavers can knock off Colorado.
And then there's the Big East, where 12-12 Georgetown is one win away from crashing the party.
Let the record show that Georgetown was my sleeper pick to win the Big East tournament. (Kindly ignore those Kentucky in the SEC and Stanford in the Pac-12 picks, though. Can't win 'em all.)
After a brutal 3-8 start to the year was followed by a lengthy COVID-19 pause, the Hoyas won six of their final 10 regular-season games, including a road victory over Creighton and home wins over Xavier and Seton Hall (that more or less popped those Big East teams' bubbles).
The post-COVID breakout of Chudier Bile was the biggest reason I was buying the Hoyas.
The transfer from Northwestern State made little impact in Georgetown's first 11 games, but he was arguably the team's most valuable player down the stretch. Out of nowhere, he scored at least a dozen points in eight out of 10 games, emerging as a key perimeter weapon on both ends of the floor.
But, incredibly, the Hoyas have knocked off Marquette, Villanova and Seton Hall without getting much out of Bile on offense.
He shot 1-of-11 from the field against the Golden Eagles, finishing with five points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Against Villanova, he missed each of his four field-goal attempts, committed five turnovers and fouled out in 21 minutes.
In lieu of the guy who had become their leader, everyone else has come through.
Jahvon Blair and Qudus Wahab couldn't miss against Marquette.
Freshman point guard Dante Harris capitalized on Collin Gillespie's absence for Villanova to the tune of 18 points and five assists with no turnovers.
And against Seton Hall, it was Jamorko Pickett's time to shine with a team-high 19 points. (Bile also had a tie-breaking and-1 layup in the final two minutes.)
Throw in senior wing Donald Carey—who doesn't shoot a ton, but does make 42.2 percent of his three-point attempts—and Georgetown has a formidable six-man rotation.
It's almost certainly not a Final Four-caliber six-man rotation, but it's a whole heck of a lot better than what was expected from the Hoyas when they were predicted to finish dead last in the preseason coaches poll.
And it's a rotation good enough to knock off Creighton in Saturday's championship.
After all, the Hoyas just won 86-79 at Creighton a little over a month ago.
It wasn't even a bad night for the Bluejays, either. They made 10 triples, shot 47.4 percent from the field and scored 79 points. They were just unable to keep pace with Georgetown on a night where each of the six main Hoyas played well.
There's no good reason Georgetown can't repeat that formula to shock the college basketball world.
Now for the fun part.
If Georgetown wins the game, some bubble hopeful gets pushed out of the NCAA tournament field.
Squeezed like an Orange, one might say.
While we cannot say with certainty until the Selection Show which team is right on that cut line, it very well could be former Big East (and still loathed) rival Syracuse. The Orange are currently my last team in the projected field, so they would at least be falling out of my bracket if Georgetown wins, for whatever that's worth.
How sweet would that be for the Hoya Saxa faithful?
Since becoming the head coach at Georgetown, Patrick Ewing has just a 1-3 record against the 'Cuse. One of those losses was the one that dropped the Hoyas to 3-8 overall back in early January. But winning this game against Creighton, snapping a five-year tournament drought and potentially knocking Syracuse out of the dance in the process would be like winning the lottery and getting a new puppy on your birthday.
If that happens, maybe the MSG security guards will stop accosting Ewing for his credentials.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.