There are some people who think that John Thompson is using mirrors with this Georgetown basketball team, finding ways to coax victories from a team that can't shoot, can't score from the low post -- except when it rebounds missed shots -- and can't make free throws.
If that is the case, then Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim might consider borrowing one of Thompson's mirrors and breaking it; his luck can't possibly get any worse. Boeheim has played here for seven years and, guess what, has seven years of losses and bad luck to show for it. The seventh came Saturday, 71-69. Syracuse is hexed when it plays Georgetown anywhere, but especially at Capital Centre -- where its record is now 0-7.
Boeheim isn't about to concede that point, not now, not next year, not next century. "Every team is different," he said. "This team lost here. That doesn't have anything to do with the past."
In truth, it does. Syracuse has lost five straight to Georgetown and six of eight since Patrick Ewing departed. Overall, Boeheim is 7-18 against Thompson. For the last two years and five losses there has been absolutely no reason for the Orangemen to lose. Yet, they always do.
"Definitely," Rony Seikaly answered when asked if he felt jinxed here. "I feel like this place is haunted or something."
Seikaly may have a point. Maybe that would explain why the clock often seems to break down during big games here. Maybe that would explain why this was one of the first basketball games played where wind chill was a factor. Maybe that explains why there were some no-shows in the soldout arena..
With jinxes, coaches are paid not to believe. So, let's just say -- at least for a moment -- that Saturday was another routine day for Syracuse-Georgetown. The Orangemen had the better team -- and lost. If you want to dispute that, match up the teams individually and see how many of the Hoyas would start for Syracuse.
"Maybe we intimidate them a little," said Georgetown guard Mark Tillmon. "We do grab and hold a lot."
That is nothing new. Georgetown's games are always the longest events this side of the Super Bowl, and Saturday, with 42 fouls called, was no exception. But it's more than that. It's attitude. Syracuse led by 11 three times in the first half and managed to leave the floor trailing by two. It really was never in the game the second half, regardless of the score.
Derrick Coleman took exactly one shot during the last 20 minutes. After going five for five from the foul line in the first half, he missed four straight in the second. At one point the Orangemen missed six in a row. They finished 17 of 30 for the game after shooting 75 percent from the line in the last five games.
Haunted? "For some reason, when we play them we just don't play our game," said point guard Sherman Douglas, whose personal record as a starter against the Hoyas is 0-5. "Our big men have to score against them because they aren't that strong inside. Against Pittsburgh I have to score more, but against these guys Rony and Derrick should do it."
Seikaly and Coleman scored 12 points each. What's more, Georgetown got 18 offensive rebounds. The Hoyas aren't pretty, but they are relentless. Thompson plays 12 people, most of whom are virtually interchangeable. They don't have to worry about fouls, so they just pound away. "When things start to get wild," Thompson said, "we feel right at home."
Exactly. As soon as things get wild, Georgetown feels at home, Syracuse starts to shrivel and fade, and Boeheim begins whining to the officials. He had nothing to whine about Saturday. His team just got outhustled and outplayed.
That shouldn't happen when a team has Syracuse's talent. Remember, with the good athletes Thompson has, his leading rebounder -- with eight -- was point guard Charles Smith. The Hoyas shot their almost standard 41 percent but won the game because they got 10 more shots than Syracuse. More shots are usually the result of playing harder and tougher.
Syracuse still is good enough to be a factor in March. Ironically, Georgetown probably won't be. The Hoyas, depending on their NCAA draw, might go as far as the round of 16 but aren't likely to go further -- unless they happen to draw Syracuse in that round.
"This is not a great team," Thompson said of the Hoyas. "But these kids have a lot of pride. Usually by February I have my team where other teams have to adjust to our lineup. This year I have to adjust to other teams. That's unusual for us."
It isn't going to last long, either. Alonzo Mourning, the 6-foot-10 wonder from Chesapeake, Va., was at the game -- as a spectator. Next year he will be here in uniform, a thought that can't be too comforting for Boeheim. If he can't beat Georgetown with Ben Gillery at center, how's he going to do with Mourning in the drab gray uniform?
Of course, basketball is strange sometimes. The man who preceeded Douglas at point guard for Syracuse, Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, was a great player against great Georgetown teams but a seriously flawed one against the rest of the world. Douglas, who has taken Syracuse to heights not seen with Washington at the point, can't get the Orangemen past a relatively weak Georgetown team.
Basketball is an unpredictable game. Except when Syracuse comes to Capital Centre.