By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Once the immediate euphoria from Georgetown's 87-84 victory over undefeated and top-ranked Duke finally subsided on Saturday afternoon, Coach John Thompson III was asked to recall what went through his mind as the final buzzer sounded and the wild celebration began.
Thompson paused for a moment and replied, "Notre Dame."
That's where the Hoyas (12-4) play tonight, three days after recording one of the signature victories in the program's history. They have to go back to work in the Big East, where they are tied for sixth in the standings with a 3-2 record.
The aftereffects of Georgetown's first victory over a top-ranked team in nearly 21 years are already being felt. Yesterday, the Hoyas, who hadn't received a single vote in the Associated Press poll since the final week of November, leapt to No. 21 -- their first appearance in the top 25 since the Dec. 31, 2001, poll. Georgetown's RPI ranking jumped from 63 to 36. The biggest impact could come in March, when the Hoyas will be looking for their first NCAA tournament invitation since 2001.
"It's an attention-getter," said bracket analyst Jerry Palm, who operates the Web site CollegeRPI.com. "They've done something that no one else has done. . . . That could be the kind of thing that ends up separating them from someone else in the pack. However, it's important that they don't go and give it up. It's not going to be easy. The committee tends to reward consistency more than anything else."
That was the message that Thompson tried to relate on Saturday, as he deflected questions about what the victory meant to the program. Georgetown still has 11 conference games left to play, including dates with No. 6 Villanova (Feb. 19), No. 9 West Virginia (Feb. 12), No. 12 Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and No. 25 Syracuse (Feb. 25).
"We're right smack in the middle of the season," Thompson said. "I told those guys there's a lot of ball that still needs to be played. If we can use this momentum, if you can understand how hard and how intelligent you played today and carry it over . . . I think you can take just as much from a win and how you played, and how we should go about our business every day."
A week ago, this upcoming three-game stretch -- at Notre Dame, against Cincinnati (Saturday) and at DePaul (Jan. 31) -- appeared to be a crucial one for a Georgetown team that lacked a marquee win. It remains important, according to Palm.
Notre Dame (10-6) is just 1-4 in the Big East, but its four conference losses (to Pittsburgh, Syracuse, DePaul and Marquette) have been by a combined 17 points. The Hoyas have lost five of their past six games against the Fighting Irish, and no current Georgetown player has ever won at the Joyce Center, the site of tonight's game.
"If they go into Notre Dame and get beat, while it's a road game and Notre Dame isn't horrible, in a sense you've given up a little of what you gained on Saturday," Palm said. "That's the sign of a mature team, one that beats Duke and goes out and beats Notre Dame and goes into Chicago and beats DePaul. They win these next three games, and there's the sign of consistency you're looking for."
Georgetown wasn't consistent last week, despite coming away with two victories. On Tuesday, the Hoyas played poorly in a 50-47 win over South Florida; they essentially relied on one player, senior swingman Darrel Owens, who scored 20 points. Four days later, they were brilliant in ending Duke's 17-game winning streak. Five different players scored in double figures, and Georgetown shot 61.5 percent and had 24 assists on 32 field goals.
"It just gives us confidence knowing we can play among the best," senior guard Ashanti Cook said after the Duke game. "I think it's more the way we controlled the game. We played 40 minutes of basketball, and that's something we haven't done in the past. . . . The way we won it was just by hard work, pretty much. That's the way we want to continue to play."
The Hoyas realize that the same people who rushed to praise them following the Duke win will be just as quick to condemn them if they lose today in South Bend.
"There are always going to be critics," Owens said on Saturday. "We won today, but if we lose our next game, they'll say the same things as before. This game doesn't win us the national championship or get us where we need to be as a team. We've got conference games next week, and there are no nights off in the Big East. We need to take this win and feed off it."