Georgetown Hoyas Face Mission Improbable at Big East Tournament

"Obviously, when you look at the numbers -- where we are -- we wish we had a few more wins in there," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "But it is what it is."
"Obviously, when you look at the numbers -- where we are -- we wish we had a few more wins in there," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "But it is what it is." (Julie Jacobson - AP)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not everyone was pleased when presidents of the Big East universities voted in November 2007 to expand the league's basketball tournament from 12 to all 16 teams starting this season.

Some argued it would dilute the cachet of the event and, in turn, make tickets a tougher sell.

But inclusiveness won out. Coaches of teams that were perennially mired at the bottom of the standings reveled over the opportunity to join the party at Madison Square Garden and, with luck, eke out another victory or two against a quality opponent, raising their profiles in the process.

Who would have thought when this season opened, however, that Georgetown would be among those grateful for one last opportunity -- however remote -- to state its case for an NCAA tournament bid or, at the least, prove that its ability exceeds its 16-13 record, the Hoyas' worst regular season mark since Coach John Thompson III arrived on the Hilltop.

After earning back-to-back regular season titles in the punishing Big East, Georgetown stumbled and sputtered to a tie for 11th place this season and the No. 12 seed at the Big East tournament -- good enough to have squeaked into the conference tournament under the old rules, but well shy of any claim to an at-large NCAA bid.

Buoyed by the number of returning starters, Big East officials bragged about their chances of sending a record 10 teams to the NCAA tournament when the season opened. But after four months of pummeling one another, the conference will do well to match last year's mark of eight invitees.

Georgetown -- which has served as a high-profile punching bag for ascending teams such as Marquette, West Virginia and Cincinnati -- won't be among those earning NCAA bids unless the Hoyas absolutely dazzle in the Big East tournament.

"If we win it," Thompson said recently, "then there's nothing to debate."

To win the Big East tournament, however, Georgetown will have to win five games in five days. That's a tall order for any team, and particularly tough for a squad that hasn't won two consecutive games since mid-January.

Even the Hoyas' most recent victory, 48-40 over DePaul on Saturday, wasn't convincing. Georgetown's 48 points were the fewest it has scored against a Big East opponent all season, and the Hoyas' offense fizzled against a team that gives up an average of 72.6 points per game.

DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright heaped empathy and accolades alike on the young Hoyas afterward, insisting that their record would soon catch up to their ability. He was more sober about the immediate task ahead.

"It would be very difficult for somebody to win five in a row because of how physical this league is," Wainwright said. "That would be a heck of a test."

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