At Big East Midpoint, Hoyas Face Steep Climb

At 3-6 in the Big East, Coach John Thompson III's Hoyas are tied for 10th in the league with Notre Dame and St. John's.
At 3-6 in the Big East, Coach John Thompson III's Hoyas are tied for 10th in the league with Notre Dame and St. John's. (By Jonathan Daniel -- Getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; Page E04

There's no requirement that a basketball team finish with at least a .500 record in conference play to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

A strong schedule and momentum down the stretch of the regular season can compensate for records that don't look impressive at first blush.

Halfway through their Big East campaign, the Georgetown Hoyas find themselves facing a steep climb just to finish at .500 in the Big East, having lost five consecutive games -- four of them to conference foes. As a result, they tumbled from the national rankings yesterday, receiving not a single vote in the Associated Press poll.

Projected to finish eighth in the conference, the Hoyas (12-8, 3-6) are now locked with Notre Dame (also 12-8, 3-6) and St. John's (12-9, 3-6) in a tie for 10th in the league standings.

To finish 9-9, Georgetown must win six of its nine remaining games. Of those, four are against teams that are currently ranked: No. 5 Louisville, No. 8 Marquette, No. 17 Villanova and No. 20. Syracuse.

Tonight's game against Rutgers (10-12, 1-8) at Verizon Center represents the first step.

Georgetown hasn't lost five straight games since the end of the 2004-05 regular season, Coach John Thompson III's first. That group, at 19-13, ended up in the National Invitation Tournament.

Come mid-March, Georgetown's difficult schedule, constructed specifically to test the young squad early, might prove to be its chief ally in making the Hoyas' postseason case.

"Their strong schedule will work greatly in their favor," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who has previously speculated that the Big East could receive 10 NCAA bids (although just six conference teams were represented among the top 25 in the latest rankings).

Tonight would be the ideal time for the Hoyas to begin to reverse their fortunes.

They're back home, for one, after losing successive road games at Seton Hall, Cincinnati and Marquette.

Moreover, the Hoyas haven't lost to Rutgers since Craig Esherick was the coach.

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