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Hoyas: No Room For Error

Winning Big East Title Is Only Route to NCAAs

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page D01

NEW YORK, March 8 -- If the Georgetown men's basketball team is to play in this season's NCAA tournament, then its mission is straightforward: Win the Big East tournament and take the automatic bid that comes with it.

Five straight losses to close the regular season have basically wiped out any alternative for the Hoyas, who face Seton Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in a first-round game at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova's Jason Fraser has the upper hand on Jeff Green. The Hoyas looked like an NCAA lock until they lost 5 in a row. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

So much has changed over the past three weeks. After beating West Virginia on Feb. 12, Georgetown was 16-6 overall and 8-3 in the Big East, and the question seemed to be not whether the Hoyas would make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001, but where they would be seeded in the field of 65. Georgetown figured to need only two wins in its final five games to secure an at-large bid.

But the Hoyas haven't won since. Squeezed in between forgivable losses to Notre Dame, Villanova and Connecticut -- the latter two teams playing as well as any in the country -- were costly defeats to two of the bottom teams in the Big East, St. John's and Providence.

Georgetown didn't handle the pressure of playing big games late in the season, and the pressure won't lessen now, even though the possibility of an NCAA berth is remote.

"I don't think it lightens up now, not if there's any caring in what we're doing," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "I don't think there's any less pressure because of the position we're in or not in. This is the time of year when there's nothing but pressure."

The road ahead isn't easy. If the Hoyas beat Seton Hall (12-15, 4-12) on Wednesday, they will face defending national champion U-Conn. in the quarterfinals Thursday. Georgetown hasn't beaten the Huskies since 1997, and just a week ago, the Hoyas were overwhelmed in an 83-64 loss at U-Conn. The Huskies have advanced to the Big East final in eight of the past 10 years.

No team has ever won four straight games to take the tournament title, and only two teams (U-Conn. in 2000 and Pittsburgh in 2001) have made it to the title game after playing on the tournament's first day. Georgetown hasn't won two games in the Big East tournament since 2000, when it lost to U-Conn. in the semifinals.

"This group can have success this week," Thompson said. "A lot of things have to fall in place; the stars have to align themselves properly. We still are the same team that we've been all year, when we were playing well, when we were playing poorly. We have a very small margin of error."

That point was driven home in Georgetown's last game, against Providence. In that game, the Hoyas avoided some of the problems that characterized their other losses; they got off to a good start, they shot well (55.3 percent), and they took care of the ball (eight turnovers, their second-lowest total of the season).

But the Hoyas gave up 21 offensive rebounds to the Friars (which led to 25 second-chance points) and were outrebounded 38-18. Georgetown didn't grab a rebound in the final seven minutes of the first half, and watched as a five-point lead turned into a six-point deficit. The Hoyas then came up with every rebound in the first six and a half minutes of the second half and took a three-point lead.

"We need to make up in our minds that we all need to rebound, from myself on down," junior forward Brandon Bowman said after the game on Saturday. "We pretty much know what we have to do. We've seen every team in the conference, and these are must-wins."

Georgetown won the first and only meeting with Seton Hall this season, 61-51, on Feb. 2. The Hoyas never trailed in that game, the only time that happened in Big East play. The Pirates have won only two games since they last faced the Hoyas.

"As Pops says, it's a second season now," Thompson said. "We ended the first season on a down note, now we have to play."

Hoyas Notes: Georgetown forward Jeff Green and U-Conn. forward Rudy Gay were named Big East co-rookies of the year at an awards ceremony Tuesday night. Both players were All-Met last season, Green at Northwestern and Gay, the player of the year, at Spalding.

"It just goes to show that Maryland and Baltimore have got some good players," said Green, who is the fifth Hoya to win the award and the first since Allen Iverson (1994-95).

Green and Gay, the preseason pick to win the honor, were clearly the two best and most consistent rookies in the league. Green had a slight edge over Gay in nearly every statistical category, including points (13.2 to 11.7), rebounds (6.8 to 5.8), assists (2.9 to 1.8), and field goal percentage (49.8 to 45.4).

"He's been invaluable to our team this year," Thompson said of Green. "In many ways, there's been a lot more pressure on Jeff than on Rudy, just because of our personnel."

Syracuse senior forward Hakim Warrick, who averaged 21.2 points and 8.2 rebounds, was named the Big East's player of the year, and Boston College's Al Skinner was awarded coach of the year honors in the Eagles' final season in the Big East.

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