All season, the Georgetown Hoyas talked about the transition game.
Instead, they should have talked about the transition season. Because that is what Keith Lee and Memphis State just ended with the 66-57 victory over the Hoyas in the second-round of the NCAA Midwest Regional in Louisville Sunday.
Nearly four months ago, the Georgetown season began with a No. 2 national ranking and expectations taller than 7-foot Patrick Ewing. These were expectations borne of last year's ignition, when match (experience) plus fuse (talent) equaled one basket shy of the NCAA title.
In one flick of the calendar, though, Georgetown transformed from the old and the experienced into the young and the restless. The transition season.
Sunday, the Georgetown season ended at 22-10. It ended as a season of respectability, not invincibility. It ended a season of a defusing defense, and a confusing offense, a season where the only consistency was inconsistency.
And it ended even though some Georgetownies couldn't seem to understand that Michael Jackson was not Eric Floyd and David Wingate was not Eric Smith. Not yet, anyway.
"I saw the sparks this year . . . but we never really reached it," Georgetown Coach John Thompson began his postseason analysis yesterday. "I think we matured and developed some this year. We are growing, but we haven't grown. 'Grown' is the final product.
"At the beginning of the year, I had hoped we could carry the momentum of last year with us. But we ran into some uncontrollable things."
Indeed, this Georgetown season was a complex web of wounded knees and delicate egos, of freshmen who teetered on the fine line of heroic/horrific, of talented sophomore forwards who seemed as strangely inconsistent as the freshmen, and of Ewing, sophomore center who was talented enough to make magical things seem possible, despite all of it.
This is a fact: from the epic Ralph Sampson-Ewing game of Dec. 8, which Virginia won, 68-63, to the Hoyas' final fall to Memphis State Sunday, came little improvement for the Hoyas. Georgetown was good in December, good in March.
Never were these Hoyas great.
Why? The reasons were many. Rebounding was a factor, especially against Memphis State, which outrebounded the Hoyas, 37-22. Beyond Ewing, Georgetown plays tiny. Six-foot-7 sophomore forward Bill Martin had a marvelous first 20 games, then fell silent. Ewing was forced to be the sole authoritative rebounder.
Thompson said yesterday of next year's recruiting needs, "We need a little bit of everything. But size, no question, is what we really need."
For other culprits, we can look to the strained right knee which stole 15 games from Fred Brown, a junior guard who Thompson happens to consider to be the team's second-best rebounder. Or we can look to a dislocated left elbow or pulled right hamstring which cost sophomore forward Anthony Jones as much hassle as the free-throw line.
We can also look to a wound suffered by John Thompson, one that required no bandage, but did require a healing process.
"When my mother died (in late December), I think that affected me for a large part of the season," said Thompson. "There were times when I just wasn't there, when I didn't want to be there. I think at the end of the season, it started coming back, though. I started to feel in it again."
The end of the season, of course, has always been when Georgetown is in its finest form. When the Hoyas decimated Villanova, 87-71, on March 5, they had reached the peak of their fickle season. Then, an 80-75 victory over Syracuse came two days later.
So the Hoyas finished the Big East Conference season 11-5. The two high-intensity losses to St. John's, the overtime defeat by Boston College, the quicksand-like 65-63 upset loss at Pittsburgh all seemed like regular-season fuel for the Hoyas' postseason fire.
Forget it. The Hoyas went to sleep in a 79-72 loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament first round.
As the buzzer sounded against Memphis State, Thompson sat with his chin resting in his right hand, posed like a man in thought. "In my own mind," he said of the moment, "I felt the frustration for the kids." Everybody will return for the Hoyas next year, except seldom-used senior reserves David Blue and Kurt Kaull.
Thompson said yesterday, "I tried to get every inch I could out of the kids this season. I never told the kids 'I understand' until the season was over. But I also made sure that they understood that no freshman-sophomore team had ever won the national championship. I was proud of the way they worked. I think they developed."