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The Hoyas Will Play On

NIT Is Welcomed Despite Disappointment Over Missing NCAAs

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page G06

The Georgetown men's basketball team did not gather on Sunday evening to watch the NCAA tournament selection show; the Hoyas knew that their late-season slide had ended their chances of being one of the 65 teams picked.

But the Hoyas practiced earlier in the afternoon, fully expecting their season to continue with a berth in the 40-team National Invitation Tournament. And when bids went out last night, the Hoyas were given a first-round home game against Boston University (20-8) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at MCI Center.

The Hoyas (17-12) were happy to be considered for any postseason tournament, particularly after last year, when they weren't eligible for the NIT (teams must finish .500 or better) and became the first Georgetown team in 30 years not to qualify for postseason play. But after a 16-6 start to the season, the Hoyas had hopes of earning their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2001.

"Obviously we want the opportunity to play for the national championship," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "To that end, yeah, we're disappointed that we're not getting that chance. At the same time, there are a finite number of teams that are getting the opportunity to compete right now. We're fortunate and glad to be one of those."

The first four rounds of the NIT are played at campus sites, and the semifinals (March 29) and final (March 31) are at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown has not hosted an NIT game since the 1992-93 season, when the Hoyas played Texas-El Paso at McDonough Arena and Miami (Ohio) at George Mason's Patriot Center.

The Hoyas have made nine previous appearances in the NIT. They lost in the championship game to St. John's in 2003; five players from that team remain, including senior Darrel Owens and juniors Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook.

A month ago, it appeared as if the Big East could send a record eight teams to the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas were squarely in that group, with a 16-6 overall record and an 8-3 Big East mark in mid-February. Georgetown had a solid Ratings Percentage Index (which measures the strength of a team) and road wins against Pittsburgh and Villanova -- two factors that the tournament committee takes into consideration. The Hoyas had also played a much stronger nonconference schedule than in years past.

But Georgetown did not play well down the stretch -- another factor that the tournament committee uses. The Hoyas lost six of their final 10 games, including five straight at the end of the regular season, and finished 8-8 in the Big East. A strong performance in a 66-62 loss to Connecticut in the Big East tournament quarterfinals wasn't enough to offset the losing streak.

In the end, six Big East teams (Connecticut, Boston College, Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh and West Virginia) made the tournament. Notre Dame (17-11, 9-7), which also finished the season on a 4-6 slide, will play Holy Cross (24-6) in the first round of the NIT.

Few expected Georgetown to even be in the postseason discussion at the start of the season. The Hoyas were coming off of a 13-15 season (their fewest victories since 1973-74), they had a new coach and they returned only three players who made significant contributions the previous year.

Even so, the Hoyas were left to ponder what could have been in their quest for an NCAA bid.

What if Georgetown had opted for an easier pre-conference slate and thus wound up with a few more overall victories? What if Bowman's toe hadn't crept over the three-point arc in the final seconds at Syracuse, and his game-tying shot was actually a game-winning three-pointer? What if the Hoyas hadn't lost to Providence and St. John's, the ninth- and 11th-place teams in the league, during the final two weeks of the season?

"That's human nature. You go back and look, and our game is a game of inches," Thompson said. "For us to put ourselves in a position to get consideration -- if you said that going into the season, we'd take that in a heartbeat. But as the season progresses, and you get a taste of what we can accomplish, you want more. It's disappointing, but at the same time, here we are, and we're still in a position to keep playing. We're excited about that."

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