Hoyas Are Ready, and Open for Business

Coach John Thompson III -- with Jonathan Wallace, left, and Austin Freeman -- is 6-2 in the NCAA tournament coaching the Hoyas. Georgetown will play its first game Friday in Raleigh, N.C.
Coach John Thompson III -- with Jonathan Wallace, left, and Austin Freeman -- is 6-2 in the NCAA tournament coaching the Hoyas. Georgetown will play its first game Friday in Raleigh, N.C. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 17, 2008

As Georgetown senior Roy Hibbert sat and watched the NCAA tournament selection show inside a campus dining hall last night, he noticed how players from other teams jumped up and down and screamed when their names were revealed on the bracket.

But when "Georgetown" popped up on the big screen as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region and Maryland-Baltimore County was revealed as the Hoyas' first-round opponent, there was barely any reaction from the 13 players sitting near the front of the room. No fist pumps, no high-fives, and no leaping out of seats.

"Two, three years ago, we probably would've been jumping up and down, going crazy," Hibbert said. "But we knew we were in, we all assumed what number [seed] we were going to be. It was just a matter of where we were going to play. We're going to have to go out there and handle our business."

Hibbert attributed the players' calm reaction to the fact that Georgetown is a veteran team with plenty of tournament experience: This is its third straight NCAA appearance, the program's longest such streak since qualifying for four consecutive tournaments between 1994 and '97. The Hoyas (27-5) were a No. 2 seed last season, when they advanced to the Final Four.

The several hundred students and fans who gathered at O'Donovan Dining Hall with the team, however, erupted in cheers when Georgetown flashed on the screen. If the Hoyas (25 NCAA appearances) beat 15th-seeded UMBC (first-ever appearance) on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., they will play the winner of No. 7 Gonzaga-No. 10 Davidson. Kansas is the top seed in the region, which will have its championship in Detroit.

"That's something that I cannot overstress enough: Having the opportunity to participate in this tournament is special," said Coach John Thompson III, who led the Hoyas to back-to-back Big East regular season titles. "It's something that I will never take for granted. . . . When you win the regular season, that doesn't get you an automatic bid, but at that point, I felt pretty good about our chances of being called today."

The Hoyas gathered in the same room last year to watch the selection show, but the atmosphere was rather different then. In 2007, they were coming off of a sweep of the Big East regular season and tournament championships, and the viewing party was also a celebration of those accomplishments.

Yesterday, the Hoyas were still digesting their disappointing performance in the Big East tournament final, a 74-65 loss to Pittsburgh. They were glad that the loss didn't drop them from the No. 2 seed, and said that they needed to move on.

"It's back to work, obviously," Hibbert said. "I'm happy we got this loss out of the way right now, instead of later. We're going to have to build our own momentum and hopefully we'll keep celebrating a couple of weeks from now."

But the Hoyas learned a valuable lesson from Saturday's loss, in which they were outhustled and outrebounded by a 41-29 margin.

"We learned we can't take any time off, we can't take any minutes off," said junior guard Jessie Sapp, who was named to the all-tournament team along with Hibbert. "You have to play hard 40 minutes of the game. You have to go for the ball and rebound. Those guys outrebounded us by I don't know how many. We have to just play hard. Just play hard, and play the game of basketball with your heart."

Hibbert said he and sophomore Vernon Macklin watched the Retrievers (24-8) beat Hartford in the America East championship game on Saturday afternoon and noted, "They're a pretty quick team." The Hoyas are familiar with several of UMBC's players, most notably junior forward Darryl Proctor (Paul VI Catholic), from the Kenner League. Before the selection show had ended, Thompson had already gotten a call from Kevin Broadus, who was an assistant with the Hoyas before taking over at Binghamton -- one of UMBC's America East rivals.

There was no reaction from the crowd when CBS analyst Seth Davis, who praised the Hoyas during last year's selection show, identified 10th-seeded and 23rd-ranked Davidson as a legitimate round-of-16 hopeful -- in order to do that, of course, the Wildcats would have to beat the Georgetown-UMBC winner.

But there was a huge cheer just moments later, when the new Jordan Brand Jumpman ad -- which prominently features Thompson and the McDonough Arena court -- came on screen. The tagline is rather appropriate, considering the Hoyas' position as a top-two seed and a returning Final Four team: "There are no Cinderellas." Sapp was even wearing a T-shirt with the slogan emblazoned on the front, but he said his choice of apparel was "a coincidence."

The Hoyas are 6-2 in the NCAA tournament in Thompson's tenure, and they have not lost to a lower-seeded team. They've upset a No. 2 seed (Ohio State in 2006) and a No. 1 (North Carolina in 2007). But Thompson and the Hoyas are well aware of the potential for upsets in the tournament.

"I've been in position to upset people. I know that that can happen," Thompson said. "You can't get to this part of the year and overlook anyone. The teams are too well coached, they're too poised, they've won their league, or they're playing well and got an at-large bid. That's what makes it special."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company