By Mike Wise
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Where Georgetown's season went, only John Thompson III can say. What happened to the unified, tough-minded squad that went to Hartford, Conn., less than two months ago and dumped the second-ranked team in the nation, only a coach who knows his team understands.
Because those Hoyas have officially been committed to memory, maybe never to be seen again this season.
Manhandled by a Louisville team that is more physical, a year wiser and has genuine Final Four aspirations, Georgetown fell for the ninth time in the past 11 games.
As miscellaneous facts go, it's got to be hard for the Hoyas to digest this one: Since the Obama administration began, their two wins have come against Rutgers and South Florida.
Thompson said his kids "need to remember they're the same group" who did all those wonderful things against Connecticut and Memphis what seems like years ago now. But that's a hard sell to the people who filed out of Verizon Center in the final minute of an utterly deflating 76-58 loss against the sixth-ranked Cardinals.
Some turnabout, huh, a smattering of boos filling the same arena where Georgetown had not lost a game a year ago?
Much of the same Louisville team was outplayed, outsmarted and outcoached in a gripping scrum last March, on that special Saturday the Hoyas claimed their second straight Big East regular season title. Rick Pitino's all-growed-up team returned to find a bunch of kids with no confidence in their games or their shots.
DaJuan Summers was once thought to be one of the top five or 10 players in the country. At a muscled, 6 feet8, 240 pounds, his mug unshaven, he looks much older and more developed than many other Big East juniors.
But once he stopped believing in his shot, once his team started reeling, he didn't put his head down, lower his shoulder and get to the rim. He floated, farther and farther away from the basket, his game hovering somewhere out on the perimeter.
Summers, who missed seven of his eight attempts in 30 minutes of lethargic basketball against Louisville, essentially became the metaphor for a lost team the last five weeks. His passion and aggression became as elusive as a collar button, the nonchalant countenance on his face a sign of a team in need of a stimulus package as much as a win.
If he doesn't wake up before the Big East tournament begins, if the Hoyas don't pull themselves out of this five-week loss of consciousness, they are on track to become one of the biggest national disappointments of the season.
Locally, in a year when Maryland is scrambling for an improbable bid, George Washington is nowhere to be found and George Mason has to overcome unbelievable parity in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Hoyas were thought to be the one genuine hope for Greater Washington college hoopheads.
But if this keeps up, Jeff Jones's American U. will soon be the lone tournament representative from the District. It's Patriot League or bust, baby.
Terrence Williams, who was a part of Louisville's meltdown a year ago, returned to Verizon Center as a player who dreamed of payback.
"When you lose Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert, you lose a lot of offense," the Cardinals senior said after finishing with 12 rebounds, 10 points, 7 assists and all the mischievous smiles needed to tick off a frustrated and angry Georgetown crowd.
And how about that Hoyas' student section? Down 14 in the second half, they began chanting "[expletive] you, ref!" because that's apparently what a $53,000 per year education pays for on the Hilltop.
Blame unbridled youth. Blame the rugged Big East. Blame the chemistry problems that have plagued this team since Jesse Sapp and Chris Wright had to be separated at halftime at Duke on Jan. 17. Heck, blame the officials, if you need an artificial scapegoat.
But before the Hoyas limp toward March and a Big East tournament they entered a year ago as the No. 1 seed, Georgetown should know it did have enough to become something special this season, a team of real distinction.
The Hoyas lacked genuine depth and experience, but at one juncture their young talent, moxie, ball movement and, really, belief in one another, camouflaged every shortcoming.
Where it all went, only they know. Whether they can get it back in time to secure an NCAA tournament bid became nearly a dead issue last night. For the first time in five seasons, a Thompson-coached team has gotten worse instead of better down the stretch, losing five times at home for the first time since J.T. III's first year in 2004-05.
Less than two weeks ago, Thompson described a couple of teams he had coached as not having the wherewithal to accomplish the task at hand. "I've felt that with particular teams that couldn't get done what we wanted to get done," he said then. "I do not feel that about this group."
Asked if last night's loss changed his feelings, he replied, "No, not at all."
"Maybe that's what [is] frustrating," Thompson said. "If I didn't think this group could do it, it's 'Okay, what the hell.' But I said it then and I believe it now. I have a lot of confidence in not just these two [Wright and Monroe], but everyone else in that locker room.
"And together -- and I've said this in good times and it applies when it's bad times -- together we have to figure it out. We're not where we want to be. We have to figure out how to get out of not being where we are."
On the outside of the tournament looking in, with just three games and a Big East tourney left for redemption, is not a very good place to be at the moment.