Georgetown Hoyas' rise is a credit to their attention to defensive improvement

The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir joins Post Sports Live to break down Georgetown's recent win streak while George Mason continues to surge and Maryland plays Virginia Tech in a critical ACC game.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 12:56 AM

Grumbling among Georgetown fans would have been understandable. Some level of frustration was probably appropriate.

A 1-4 start in Big East play will do that, especially after the Hoyas raised expectations this season with an 11-1 record against a strong nonconference schedule. It seemed only fair to ask, "Would this be like the 2008-09 collapse all over again?"

The answer has come during an eight-game conference winning streak that Coach John Thompson III should list among his top professional achievements. Thompson's ability to get the No. 9 Hoyas, who face No. 13 Connecticut on Wednesday night, refocused on defense during seven days between games in late January resulted in college's basketball biggest in-season turnaround. He knew what needed to be done and made it happen.

That's called coaching.

Georgetown appeared so lost at times in early January that even seven months in the classroom seemed like too little time.

Pick an area of basketball - Georgetown failed in it during the rough stretch that included three straight losses. Turnovers, lack of rebounding, missed free throws - it was all there for Thompson to consider.

With a tight deadline, Thompson could have made a few adjustments and hoped for the best. Instead, he went all the way back to the foundation: defense.

The Hoyas did many things well during their fast start, but defense made the difference. Georgetown has the nation's second-best field goal percentage, but it was at its best displaying toughness when opponents had the ball.

Whether closing out Missouri during an overtime victory in November or pulling away from Memphis in the second half in December, Georgetown led with its defense.

That's what the Hoyas had to rediscover. That's what Thompson had to get through to them during those seven days spent only practicing in January, or it could have all fallen apart as it did two seasons ago.

His approach was basic: Thompson drilled players in man-to-man principles. See the man. See the ball. Go get the ball.

When things go badly, many coaches get caught up in "'Well, let's devise this scheme; let's devise that scheme,' " Thompson said Tuesday. "At the end of the day, it's man-on-man. If you're in front of me, I'm guarding you; I have to stop you."

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