Georgetown basketball running out of time to make NCAA tournament push


Of Georgetown’s five remaining opponents, only Seton Hall is below the Hoyas in the conference standings. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
February 19

The Georgetown men’s basketball team was in the midst of a recent revival when starting forward Nate Lubick said, “We don’t have any losses left in us.” The senior reiterated that message last week before Sunday’s game against St. John’s, when he discussed winning the final six in a row to close the regular season and give the Hoyas momentum heading into the postseason.

An 82-60 drubbing at Madison Square Garden derailed those plans, dropping Georgetown below .500 in the Big East and leaving the Hoyas out of position for a bye in the conference tournament. It also put a major dent in their hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Because of that, the Hoyas’ showdown Thursday night at Seton Hall has taken on added importance. The game matches two of the four teams with losing records in Big East play, but among them, only the Hoyas are in position, either realistically or mathematically, to overtake any of the four teams vying for seeds 3 through 6 heading into the Big East tournament.

The top six seeds receive byes into the quarterfinals and avoid having to play potentially four games in as many days.

“Every game for us is big at this point, and it always has been,” said sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who leads the Hoyas in scoring and is fourth in the Big East at 17.0 points per game. “I think for those [other] teams, they also feel they need to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the conference as well. I mean it’ll definitely pick up at the end.”

Just five days ago, Georgetown (15-10, 6-7) had won four in a row to reverse course in a season that had gone into a tailspin following the loss of two major contributors. On Jan. 8, Jabril Trawick broke his jaw against Providence. Then on Jan. 23, Coach John Thompson III suspended starting center Joshua Smith for the season for academic reasons.

The Hoyas lost five games in a row, but when Trawick reentered the lineup at full strength, the junior and his teammates methodically climbed back into the NCAA tournament picture beginning with a victory over then-No. 7 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1.

Earlier that afternoon, the Red Storm also was continuing its resurgence with a victory over Marquette. Following its pummeling of Georgetown the other night, St. John’s leapfrogged the Hoyas to move into sixth place in the conference with a split of the season series. As of Wednesday, St. John’s was fifth in the Big East.

“We have a very small margin of error,” Thompson said.

If the Hoyas are going to stage a last-ditch push to fortify their NCAA tournament resume, they’ll have to do so against mainly the top half of the conference. Of their remaining opponents, only the Pirates are below them in the Big East standings, with Georgetown’s final four games coming against Xavier, Marquette, No. 11 Creighton and No. 9 Villanova.

The Hoyas are winless this season against their final five opponents, and three of those losses came at Verizon Center.

Among those was a 67-57 to Seton Hall on Jan. 18. The Hoyas opened a 10-point lead less than three minutes into the second half but went without a field goal over the final 9 minutes 44 seconds to end their 16-game home winning streak.

The Pirates (13-12, 4-8) have lost three in a row and four of five to fall to eighth place in the Big East, ahead of only DePaul and Butler, which have combined to win four conference games.

“We have to come out and play hard from the beginning of the game,” Trawick said. “We can’t have any lapses like we did [against St. John’s]. This deep in the season, we can’t let that happen, especially with what we’re trying to get accomplished.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering many local and national beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He joined The Washington Post sports department in 1990 as a member of the high school staff and worked as a copy editor and assignment editor for almost 19 years.
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