It’s not in the nature of John Thompson III to step back and take stock of his Hoyas in the middle of a basketball season. The coach resists the very idea, as if big-picture analysis is fraught with peril, bound to jinx a team that’s on a winning streak or undermine the confidence of one mired in a rough patch.
Instead, Thompson focuses on the next game and incremental ways of getting the Hoyas to play better.
But as Georgetown launches into the second half of its 18-game Big East schedule, it’s clear the relatively young team is exceeding expectations. Projected to finish sixth in conference play after losing its three top scorers from last season, Georgetown (16-4, 6-3) is fourth in the standings behind Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville.
By forging a tough-nosed defense that’s allowing conference opponents just 56.1 points per game, the Hoyas have managed to compensate for shortcomings on offense. They’ve shown the ability to bounce back from setbacks, such as their 0-2 start in Big East play and the loss of starting forward Greg Whittington, a productive scorer and imposing defender.
As a result, Georgetown this week reclaimed a spot in the rankings, now No. 20, and takes a four-game winning streak into snowy Piscataway, N.J., on Saturday to face Rutgers (12-9, 3-7), which has lost five in a row.
For the most part, Georgetown’s players mimic their coach and downplay any sense of how they stack up nationally.
“We’re on a good streak right now, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” junior Markel Starks cautioned. “We know what it has been like the last two years: You get on a streak, start to get hot and then you’re brought back down to reality.”
To junior forward Nate Lubick, the way the team responded to its poor Big East start and the loss of Whittington, ruled academically ineligible in early January, is a sign of the Hoyas’ budding maturity.
“At the beginning of the year when we did enter the polls, maybe people starting thinking about that and talking about it a little too much,” said Lubick, who had a career-first double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) in last Saturday’s 68-56 victory over St. John’s. “At this point, we’ve realized that’s not the stuff that matters anymore. It’s getting in there and practicing every day and being prepared for our games.”
Added sophomore Otto Porter Jr., who leads the team in scoring (14.8 points) and rebounding (7.6): “We’re very confident right now. We’ve won four in a row. It’s going to carry over to the next game. We’re going to play up to the level of competition or even past it.”
Rutgers isn’t exactly striking fear in opponents just now. The Scarlet Knights’ point production has fallen steadily during their five-game losing streak and reached a season low in Wednesday’s 68-48 loss to Louisville. But with three guards capable of exploding from three-point range, they remain a threat. Kansas State transfer Wally Judge, at 6 feet 9 and 250 pounds, gives them sorely needed heft inside.
A Washington native, Judge played AAU basketball for the D.C. Assault and was touted as one of the nation’s top power forwards coming out of high school. He considered enrolling at Georgetown and Maryland before settling on Kansas State. After sitting out last season as a transfer, he’s averaging 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for Rutgers.
“We have a little bit more of a target on our backs than we did at the beginning of the year,” Lubick conceded. “After we lost those two first games, people kind of thought, ‘Aw, Georgetown is a team we can roll over this year in the conference!’ But that’s not the case.”