Even as he wrestled with the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament, Georgetown senior Nate Lubick was well on his way Monday to recalibrating his goals for what playing time remains in his fourth and final season on the Hilltop.
“I’ve never beaten West Virginia since I’ve been here,” said Lubick, a 6-foot-8 forward, as the Hoyas prepared for Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament opener against their former Big East foe. “That would be an awesome thing to go out on.”
The NIT, of course, isn’t the postseason that Lubick or any of his teammates envisioned when college basketball’s 2013-14 season dawned.
The Hoyas’ were picked to finish second in the newly reconstituted Big East. Instead, they ended up seventh (17-14, 8-10), torpedoing what slim chance remained of an NCAA tournament berth by losing to DePaul in the opening game of the conference tournament.
And while there is no shortage of factors and failings to point to in analyzing what went wrong, the Hoyas, at least for the moment, have their sights set on the second chance that the NIT represents.
“The guys still want to play more basketball games,” said Jabril Trawick, the Hoyas’ tough-nosed defender. “It’s a good thing for the seniors; they still get to play basketball. And for the guys coming back next year, it helps us out in the long run, as well.”
Added Coach John Thompson III: “You’re upset, mad, frustrated — that whole gamut of emotions. That’s the bus ride home. Then you get re-energized when you realize, ‘Okay, we’re still going to be able to play,’ and when you take a look around the country at how many good teams weren’t invited — how many good teams aren’t playing.”
With Verizon Center committed to hosting the circus, Tuesday’s game will be staged at 2,500-seat McDonough Arena. It will be the first men’s game contested there since December 2009, when a blizzard forced a switch from Verizon Center. Georgetown ended up falling to Old Dominion, 61-57.
Given the close confines, projected capacity crowd and the physical nature of past Georgetown-West Virginia games, it may well be one of the more electric clashes of the season.
Both Georgetown and West Virginia have been streaky this season, stumbling against lightly regarded opponents on one hand while toppling top-10 powers on the other.
A No. 4 seed, Georgetown played the tougher schedule and notched victories over Michigan State, Creighton and Virginia Commonwealth — only to be swept by Seton Hall, lose to Northeastern and barely mount a fight against DePaul when it mattered most.
West Virginia (17-15, 9-9), a No. 5 seed, scored 92 points in a rout of Kansas and has twice topped the 100-point mark this season. But like the Hoyas, the Mountaineers came up empty with its postseason in the balance, scoring a season-low 49 points in their Big 12 tournament loss to Texas after getting a first-round bye.
And though West Virginia also boasts victories over Iowa State and Oklahoma, its lackluster showing down the stretch, losing five of its last seven games (as did Georgetown) undermined any hope of an NCAA tournament bid.
While Georgetown holds a 26-25 edge in its series with West Virginia, the Mountaineers have dominated the Hoyas since Bob Huggins returned to coach his alma mater. Huggins’s West Virginia teams are 5-2 vs. Thompson’s Hoyas, winning the past five meetings.
Lubick recalls the physicality of their last clash, in 2012, well.
“They’re very physical, very tough inside, but they’ve got some guards who can score,” Lubick said, alluding to Juwan Staten, a 6-1 junior guard from Dayton, Ohio, who’s averaging 18 points, 5.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. “It’ll be a throwback Big East game.”
Added Thompson: “There is no doubt that Huggie is one of the best coaches ever to do this. His record speaks for itself. His teams are going to defend. They’re going to be tough, and they’re going to rebound.
“He’s one of the best at making adjustments. And he has won at multiple places.”