By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007
NEW YORK, March 7 -- Considering the depth in this year's Big East, there was no easy place for Georgetown to land in the tournament bracket; dangerous teams lurked in every pairing. But Coach John Thompson III quickly noticed that on the Hoyas' side of the draw sat two of the schools that have given his team the most trouble over the past two seasons: Villanova and Syracuse.
The top-seeded Hoyas (23-6) have to face one of those foes at noon on Thursday -- ninth-seeded Villanova, which beat eighth-seeded DePaul, 75-67, on Wednesday-- and try to avoid the fate of the past two top seeds in this event, Boston College in 2005 and Connecticut last year, which lost in the first quarterfinal of the tournament's second day.
Villanova (22-9) and fifth-seeded Syracuse (22-9), which eliminated U-Conn. and will face fourth-seeded Notre Dame (23-6) at 2:30 p.m., are responsible for two of Georgetown's losses this season, and both the Wildcats and Orange have won two of their past three games against the Hoyas.
Villanova senior forward Curtis Sumpter, for one, is excited to see Georgetown again.
"I'm anxious to get a shot at the next opponent; I'm ready already," said Curtis Sumpter, who averaged 10 points in two games against the Hoyas, seven below his season average. "Knowing it's Georgetown, and our previous two games and how it ended, I think we match up with them pretty well."
Will Sheridan, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, did a good job of defending Georgetown 7-foot-2 junior Roy Hibbert in the previous two games. Hibbert -- who set the Big East record for season field goal percentage (.712 in conference play) -- scored a total of six points and attempted four shots in the two games; in his other 14 conference games, he averaged 7.6 shots and 14.8 points.
Georgetown and Villanova split their two games, which were decided by a combined seven points -- something of an anomaly in a season in which 22 of Georgetown's 29 games involved double-digit spreads. Junior forward Jeff Green, who was named third team all-American by the NABC, hit the game-winning shot in the final 20 seconds to give Georgetown a 58-55 victory on Feb. 17, the most recent meeting.
"When we beat them at Georgetown [56-52], they played a much better game than us. We kind of got lucky down there," Villanova Coach Jay Wright said. "When we played at home, I thought we played a great game. We just could not finish it. . . . Obviously, both teams have gotten better. We've just had two great games. This is going to be a battle, man."
At least the Hoyas, who have not played since the regular season finale against Connecticut on Saturday, will enter the game rested. That's not the case for the Wildcats, whose five starters each played more than 30 minutes against DePaul. Guard Scottie Reynolds, the Big East rookie of the year, and Sumpter each logged 37 minutes and combined to take 35 shots and score 54 points against the Blue Demons. Wright said he was sending his players back to the hotel with strict orders to drink lots of liquids and stay off their feet.
The Hoyas haven't won the tournament since 1989 -- the last time they came to the Garden as the top seed -- and they haven't made it to the final since 1996. Thompson considers this to be a very special event; he still remembers being "terrified" when he initially heard that only the top 12 teams advance to the Garden, because he was worried that his first Hoyas team (2004-05) could show great improvement and still finish 13th. (The Hoyas ended up as the seventh seed that season.)
"This is what we've worked hard for," said Green, who was named the Big East player of the year Tuesday. "The type of league that the Big East is, knowing it's such a physical league and such a talented league, coming out on top would be a great honor for us. We just have to work hard. We know the first part of our season is over, and we came out number one there, and we have to do it again."
At the same time, the Hoyas know that they will be playing when the NCAA tournament begins next week. U-Conn. Coach Jim Calhoun said earlier in the week that the best way to get ready for the NCAA tournament is to do well in New York, because "winning begets winning." Plus, with the Big East final being held on Saturday night, there is plenty of time to rest up for a Thursday or Friday NCAA game.
"They can be meshed and joined together," Thompson said of the two goals. "We need to re-focus and see if we can put together a good couple of days here in New York, and then we'll re-group and see if we can put together a good couple of weekends in the NCAA tournament."