By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006
The Georgetown players who were on the court when the final buzzer ended their upset of top-ranked Duke in January have not forgotten the feeling. But just in case they need a reminder, there is a large photographic mural of the euphoric, storm-the-floor aftermath in one of the stairwells inside McDonough Arena.
Georgetown was unranked -- not receiving a single vote in the Associated Press poll -- before that nationally televised 87-84 victory. But the Hoyas vaulted into the top 25 immediately afterward and continued their resurgence by remaining there throughout the regular season and then advancing to the region semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Those achievements resulted in raised expectations and a No. 8 preseason ranking, and are part of the reason Georgetown enters tonight's game at Duke in a much different position: Instead of trying to storm into the top 25, the Hoyas are trying desperately to remain there.
"In many ways, a lot of teams are going to look at us differently than they did last year," Coach John Thompson III said. "This group needs to understand that, and mentally, physically and emotionally prepare for that."
With home losses to unranked Old Dominion and Oregon, the Hoyas (4-2) have dropped to No. 18 in the rankings entering tonight's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the No. 11 Blue Devils have a 45-game winning streak against nonconference opponents.
"Last year, we may have had a lot of naysayers saying that we couldn't play with those guys, but at the same time, we knew that we could," junior guard Jonathan Wallace said. "We were confident in ourselves as a team. We just bring that same confidence back this year. We know we're able to go in and compete with Duke and play our style of basketball."
There is no better example of Georgetown's style of basketball than last season's seminal upset. The Hoyas dissected the Blue Devils' man-to-man defense by spreading the floor and using backdoor cuts to get easy baskets; Georgetown shot a season-high 61.5 percent and assisted on 24 of its 32 field goals.
But the Hoyas have yet to click on offense this season. In their 57-50 loss to Oregon -- a team that also uses an aggressive man-to-man defense -- players often stood around the perimeter; when cuts were made, they weren't hard, and the passes were sloppy.
"We got stagnant in some places and started thinking too much instead of relaxing and playing," Wallace said. "That being sort of a wake-up call should help us going into the next game."
Junior forward Jeff Green was one of the stars in last year's Duke game, with 18 points and seven assists. He and 7-foot-2 junior Roy Hibbert were the reason for the high preseason expectations, but neither player has been dominant. Against Oregon, neither player scored in the first half, and they finished with a combined nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Green has been battling double-teams and foul trouble, but he also has been strangely passive at times. He is a superior passer, and his unselfishness as a player is one of the things that makes him special, but he also realizes that he needs to balance that with a certain assertiveness.
"I feel like that's just me," said Green, who leads the Hoyas with 22 assists (3.7 per game). "By me being unselfish, I think it can hurt me just as much as it can help me."
Unlike last season, when Green got off to a similarly slow start, he is not playing alongside or deferring to older, more experienced players. Of the 10 Hoyas who are regularly playing this season, only four averaged more than eight minutes per game in 2005-06. Green often is on the floor with two or three freshmen or sophomores.
Green's scoring average through the first six games (10.8 points) is roughly the same as it was at this point last season (10.3 points), but he is taking far fewer shots. His 37 shot attempts rank fifth on the team, behind Wallace (54), sophomore guard Jessie Sapp (52), Hibbert (46) and sophomore forward Marc Egerson (38). Green has taken four shots or fewer in three of the past four games.
"I have to, we have to, the team has to, Jeff has to, we have to get him more looks," Thompson said of Green, who took 55 shots in his first six games as a sophomore. "We have to get him more touches, and he has to be more aggressive."
Said Hibbert: "Obviously, he takes what the offense gives him. But when we need him, he's definitely there. . . . He's a team leader, we're all going to follow him, so it starts with him. I'm right there to follow with him."
Hibbert missed five of the seven shots he took against the Ducks. He attempted two shots in the first four minutes: One was a missed layup, and the other was blocked by the 6-9 Maarty Leunen. Hibbert acknowledged he needs to be more aggressive, particularly early in the game in order to set the tone.
The best way for him to do that is "obviously making shots when I'm so close to the basket," said Hibbert, who is averaging 12.2 points. "That has to be my job. I'm two feet away from the basket and I have the ball -- I get on myself for that, so I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen anymore."
Duke is not the same powerhouse that came to Washington in January. That Blue Devil team had an undefeated record (17-0) and an unquestioned No. 1 ranking; this one is 6-1 and has lost to Marquette, a team that was picked to finish behind Georgetown in the Big East. Duke's starting lineup likely will include three freshmen and one sophomore, and the Hoyas have twice as many preseason Wooden Award candidates (Hibbert and Green) than the Blue Devils (sophomore forward Josh McRoberts).
But the Hoyas' recent stumbles have them feeling like the underdog once again.
"We're [ranked] behind them, so we're going to have to come up on them again," Hibbert said. "We have to take it to them. We have to strike first."