Georgetown is maturing into a very good basketball team.Not a great team, like last year's 26-6 NCAA regional finalist, but one that could win the Big East for the second straight season.
Less than two weeks ago, the Hoyas were 7-6 and had lost as many games as they did all last season. Coach John Thompson, in his ninth year, said the inconsistent play of his young, inexperienced club was wearing him out. "This pacing the sidelines can be awfully tiring," he said. "I'm having to do the kind of coaching now that I haven't done since my first two years here."
Since hurling his eyeglasses to the floor during a rare loss at home, to Penn, Thompson has remained seated on the Georgetown bench for the most part, watching his team win three straight Big East Conference games and show noticeably more poise in doing so.
A large part of that improvement must be credited to the rapid development of Thompson's freshman point guard, Fred Brown. At 6-foot-5, the former Adlai Stevenson High School (New York) star runs Thompson's disciplined fast break offense. Thompson can do less screaming and more teaching now, because Brown is becoming his on-court coach.
After a tentative start, Brown has assumed about 90 percent of the ball-handling duties, which include assisting back court shooting mate Sleepy Floyd and running the delay game, plus drawing the opposition's toughest guard.
"Any problems that Freddie might have had at the beginning of this season can be largely attributed to me," said Thompson. "Freddie has sacrificed his freewheeling style to run the offense the way I want it run. He's got a long way to go. But he's playing like a man."
Brown is scoring nearly nine points and handing out more than four assists per game. Saturday night, he also had seven rebounds for the third time this season as the Hoyas defeated conference rival Syracuse, 62-57, at McDonough Arena.
That victory, added to narrow triumphs over Seton Hall and Boston College, have lifted the Hoyas to 10-6 and 3-1 in the Big East, a half-game behind St. John's. That record should improve tonight after Georgetown faces winless Providence at home.
"The thing that I'm most pleased with is that the kids are starting to believe," Thompson said after the Syracuse game. "They're sustaining their poise so much better than at the beginning of the season." Thompson knows it's still too early to run out and start screaming, "I told you so," about his assertion that his players would jell into a solid unit before tournament time in March.
But the Hoyas should be more confident than at any other time this season going into a tough three-game stretch against once-defeated Connecticut, AU and Nevada-Las Vegas, to be televised nationally on Jan. 31.
The other factor in Georgetown's resurgence is the play of forwards Jeff Bullis and Mike Hancock, who scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, against Syracuse.
Thompson said at the beginning of the season that the 6-7 juniors must perform consistently well if the team was to even approach the level of success it enjoyed last season. Each has been working harder without the ball and looking for medium-range jumpers. Both a hitting around 50 percent and must continue to do so if the Hoyas are to successfully defend their Big East title without Craig Shelton and John Duren.