By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2009
After his team got steamrolled by West Virginia on Thursday at Verizon Center, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III characterized the 17-point loss as "a blip."
"Today is not the norm," Thompson insisted after the game.
But with one-third of the Big East season completed, the Hoyas' most ardent fans are wondering what is the norm for Thompson's young squad, which has looked alternately dazzling and disjointed in splitting its conference games.
Is Georgetown (12-5, 3-3) the brash bunch that traveled to Connecticut and toppled the nation's No. 2 team to open Big East play? Or is it the squad that got blown out at home by the unranked Mountaineers on Thursday without battling hard down the stretch?
The 75-58 loss marked the first time the Hoyas had lost to an unranked opponent at Verizon Center since Jan. 8, 2007, when Villanova walked off with a 56-52 victory.
Whether the West Virginia loss was a blip, as Thompson argued, or a telling window on a team with more talent than experience will become clear in the coming week. The Hoyas launch into a three-game stretch of Big East road games today, traveling to Prudential Center in Newark for a 2 p.m. contest against Seton Hall (9-9, 0-6), then to Cincinnati (13-7, 3-4) on Wednesday and to Milwaukee on Saturday to face 11th-ranked Marquette (17-2, 6-0).
Seton Hall has lost its last six games and remains winless in the Big East. But the Pirates have forced overtime against their last two home opponents. Plus, today's halftime tribute to the 20th anniversary of Seton Hall's 1989 Final Four team may provide extra inspiration.
Georgetown can find its inspiration from trying to move beyond a dispiriting defeat. The outcome was striking against West Virginia, and so was the halfhearted manner in which the Hoyas lost. Despite a marked advantage in size, Georgetown was outscored in the paint and outrebounded. The Hoyas shot poorly from everywhere. And while the ability to score can inexplicably desert a player, the ability to defend is more a matter of choice. Yet the Hoyas displayed a lack of urgency on the defensive end, even after West Virginia's lead reached double figures and the clock ticked down.
"I think the last two or three minutes was unacceptable," Thompson said yesterday when asked about his players' effort. "Prior to that, frustration at one end [offense] led to confusion at the other [defense]."
Thompson said he identified two priorities when the Hoyas regrouped for practice.
"West Virginia got a lot of uncontested shots, so our attention to detail at the defensive end has to get significantly better," he said. "And at the offensive end, we have to do a better job of reading the defenses and executing our offense."
Asked if he felt the West Virginia loss would represent a turning point, Thompson invoked a favorite philosophy.
"We'll see," he said. "Whether you have a good win or a bad loss, you can't get too high or too low. We have to focus on the next game."
Not all Georgetown fans share Thompson's measured temperament, at least not those who deconstruct victories and defeats alike on the message boards at the HoyaTalk Web site. A thread entitled "Was this really just a blip?" evoked opinions galore recently, such as "This team doesn't take a hit/adversity well."
Some fans are in panic mode, convinced that Georgetown has squandered any hope of a third straight Big East regular season title and angst ridden about prospects in the NCAA Tournament.
Others argue that all Georgetown needs is a bruising power forward such as Pittsburgh's 6-foot-7, 265-pound DeJuan Blair, who scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against the Hoyas earlier this month. Others say senior guard Jessie Sapp needs more playing time to help steady his younger teammates. Nearly all clamor for more toughness on defense.
Thompson said he doesn't read Internet chatter about the Hoyas.
Regarding his players' effort on defense, he bristled at a suggestion that some Hoyas weren't carrying their share of the load.
"I think we need more of a defensive presence from [players] one through 13," Thompson said. "There's no need to single out any guys."
As for the calls for a more physical player to be added to the roster, Thompson noted that the middle of a season is "a hard time" to debate a college team's composition.
"We have to figure out how this group is going to have success," Thompson said.