“I’ve got to fess up: I did pay attention to it last night,” Thompson said Thursday at McDonough Gym. “And the long and short of it is, if we win, we’re the number two [seed]. If we lose, I don’t know what happens after that.”
Indeed, if the Hoyas (22-6, 12-5) hand the Golden Eagles (24-6, 13-4) their first conference defeat at Bradley Center this season, they’ll wrap up the No. 2 seed and earn a coveted double-bye into the quarterfinals in next week’s Big East tournament. In the three previous tournaments that used that format, two champions played their first game in what is essentially the third round.
Marquette and No. 2 Syracuse have already secured double-byes, which are awarded to the regular season’s top four teams. No. 20 Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) clinched the third double-bye Friday night with a win at Providence.
If the Hoyas lose to the Golden Eagles, well, that’s when it gets complicated. They can finish third, fourth, fifth or sixth — the last one a worse-case scenario that can only occur if the Hoyas lose to Marquette and South Florida (19-11, 12-5) and Cincinnati (21-9, 11-6) win their final regular season games. (The Bulls host West Virginia and Bearcats visit Villanova on Saturday in a game that’s important to Cincinnati’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes.)
Georgetown is 5-0 against Big East opponents that appear twice on its schedule, but beating Marquette for a second time figures to be much more difficult than sweeping St. John’s and Providence.
When the teams met at Verizon Center on Jan. 4, the Hoyas’ doubled down on defense in the second half and stunned the Golden Eagles, 73-70, on a three-pointer by Hollis Thompson with 24 seconds left. Georgetown trailed 56-39 with 13 minutes 13 seconds left.
“The first half of that game, that wasn’t us,” senior Jason Clark said. “If we would have played the first half the way we played the second half, it would have been a whole different game.”
Senior Henry Sims added, “We got one from them when they were here, so they’re going to be looking for revenge.”
With an 8-0 mark at Bradley Center this season, Marquette joins Syracuse as the only Big East teams yet to lose a conference game on their home floor this season. But finishing with an unblemished Big East record at home will be only one of their goals.
Marquette is coming off its first loss in six games, a 72-61 setback at Cincinnati on Wednesday. It’s also senior day for Big East player of the year candidates Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, Marquette’s top two scorers at 18.3 and 17.4 points per game, respectively.
“As a fan, [Johnson-Odom] is fun to watch,” John Thompson said. “As the coach of the Georgetown preparing for the last game of the season, he’s hell to watch.”
When Thompson was reminded that Crowder, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward who can bang underneath and swish three-pointers, has averaged 24.4 points over the past five games, the coach cracked, “I’m trying not to look at his numbers.”
On Saturday, though, the number that figures to be most important to Georgetown will be Marquette’s shooting percentage.
The Hoyas have won each of the past two games with defense, limiting Villanova to 28 percent shooting and Notre Dame to 33.3 percent. The Hoyas used their length to harass the Wildcats and Fighting Irish into missing a 60 of their combined 98 attempts from the floor, including all but six of their 29 three-point attempts.
Georgetown first realized its defensive potential two months ago in the final 20 minutes against Marquette. Now, Clark said, the challenge is doing it for 40 minutes against an opponent that’s averaging 75.9 points per game (tied for 28th nationally).
“It showed us that if we defend, the whole game, we would never be in that type of position,” Clark said, referring to January’s meeting. “It showed us that when we defend, we win games.”