Georgetown basketball hopes long layoff pays off against Cincinnati

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 11:55 PM

When the Georgetown men's basketball team had an eight-day break in January, the Hoyas emerged with a renewed commitment to defense and won their next six games. That midseason turnaround has many wondering if Coach John Thompson III and his players can reinvent themselves a second time after a long layoff.

The answer will become apparent Saturday afternoon, when No. 17 Georgetown visits Cincinnati 10 days after the Bearcats stunned the Hoyas on their home floor, 58-46.

Georgetown, which last played seven days ago in a 58-51 loss to Syracuse, is tied for sixth place in the Big East; the top eight earn byes in the conference tournament. But because there are six teams within a game of one another in the muddled middle of the Big East standings, the Hoyas (21-8, 10-7) could end up as high as a No. 6 seed in next week's tournament or as low as the No. 10 seed, depending on the outcome of this weekend's games.

In fact, there are 22 possibilities when it comes to determining where Georgetown will land, according to a Big East official.

The simplest scenario, though, also happens to be the only one that Thompson said the Hoyas are focused on. With a win over the Bearcats (23-7, 10-7), Georgetown will secure a spot somewhere among the top eight and will open play at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. (Teams seeded 1-4 earn a double bye into Thursday's quarterfinals, while Nos. 5-8 advance only to the second round. The other eight teams open Tuesday and must win five games in as many days to capture the title.)

In their first game without point guard Chris Wright, who broke a bone in his hand during the loss to Cincinnati, the Hoyas struggled to get into a flow offensively and fell to rival Syracuse. But after a loss in which they battled back from a double-digit deficit to take a late lead, Thompson said confidently, "We're going to figure it out."

The past seven days have allowed Thompson, his staff and players to make adjustments, tweak strategies and, just as important, get used to the fact that their starting point guard isn't on the floor. Thompson reiterated that the Hoyas will continue to replace Wright with a committee of players.

"We're getting used to being on the court without Chris. [Markel Starks] has obviously had additional practice, additional reps," Thompson said Friday, adding that Hollis Thompson will start for the second straight game. "But so has Vee Sanford. And Austin [Freeman] and Jason [Clark] have gotten used playing in the back court alone without Chris."

Fans will want to keep a close eye on Starks, a freshman who is expected to replace Wright next season. Against Syracuse, he played a season-high 24 minutes, which was only three less than Clark, and did not look out of place. Starks matched his season high with six points and was the only Georgetown guard not to commit a turnover.

"Playing that amount of minutes was new, a different experience, especially in a big-time game like that," Starks said.

It's unclear how much playing time Starks will receive against Cincinnati. But this much is not up for debate: all of the Hoyas will have to be sharper and contribute more at the offensive end if they hope to end a two-game losing streak and enter the conference tournament with any momentum.

In the teams' last meeting, Cincinnati's swarming man-to-man defense and stifling zone contributed to Georgetown shooting 25 percent from the field, the Hoyas' worst mark in at least 15 seasons.

"We play the games, try to win the games, then pick our head up at the end of the season and see where we stand," Thompson said. "That's the approach we're taking."

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