A position that would have been downright crazy only a few weeks ago makes perfect sense now: The red-hot Georgetown Hoyas should be in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s what the evidence shows.
Georgetown’s timing, with the tournament brackets to be released in less than two weeks, is impeccable. The Hoyas’ best stretch has occurred entering the sport’s showcase month, which figures to strengthen their standing with the NCAA tournament’s selection committee.
Although the committee considers each team’s entire résumé (get prepared to hear the phrase “body of work” a whole lot), how teams finish the regular season, among other factors, often helps determine who winds up on those four exclusive No. 1 lines. And after what happened last week, Georgetown’s late-season road show could definitely play well with the committee.
While three teams ahead of them in the national polls lost to unranked opponents this week, the seventh-ranked Hoyas won twice, including outlasting a solid Connecticut team in double overtime at Storrs, Conn. That was a good encore to the Hoyas’ signature victory of the season.
Georgetown’s Feb. 23 win over then-No. 8 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome is the sort of thing that tends to enhance a team’s profile. Through their surprisingly impressive play after starting the season unranked, Coach John Thompson III’s players are shouting, “Look at us.”
The Hoyas have two games remaining before the Big East tournament. They’re on the road Wednesday against Villanova and host Syracuse on Saturday in the Orange’s final Big East regular season game before leaving for the ACC next season. If Georgetown wins both games, it would enter the postseason on a 13-game streak, including road victories in three of its last five games.
That’s some good work away from home, especially this season. Many highly ranked teams have stumbled in unfriendly environments. Duke, Indiana and Michigan — also in the top-line discussion — had bad experiences last week against unranked Virginia, Minnesota and Penn State, respectively. Miami recently had a head-scratcher at Wake Forest. During a three-game losing streak in early February, Kansas flopped on the road against unranked TCU, the Big 12’s last-place team. The Hoyas have distinguished themselves as road warriors.
Georgetown’s effective road performance alone, however, likely won’t be enough for it to secure a top spot in the brackets. Fortunately for the Hoyas, there’s so much more they’ve done well.
Winning the Big East regular season title would be a major accomplishment. Let’s not forget, this isn’t the Big West we’re talking about. At least six Big East teams figure to receive tournament bids. The first-place team in a power conference, with the overall record and road credentials that Georgetown has, is certainly worthy of being rewarded by the committee.
And what if Georgetown won both the regular season and Big East tournament titles? Then the committee shouldn’t have much to discuss about what line the Hoyas belong on.
After playing 18 tough conference games, it’s usually hard for teams that win regular season titles to pull off the double-title feat. Anything can happen in a one-loss-and-you’re-done format.
Also, teams that achieve a lot in the regular season, and likely have secured NCAA bids, sometimes ease off the accelerator in conference tournaments. It’s human nature to let up a little bit when you’re already in a good place. But that’s not how Georgetown operates.
Thompson maintains a narrow focus. It’s all about the challenge in front of him. No big-picture stuff until the season is finished.
“We don’t want to sit and take stock of the season and say, ‘Ah, I’m satisfied,’ ” Thompson said. “We don’t approach the season, the games, like that. You have enough good halves, that turns into enough good games. You get enough good wins, then that turns into a good season.”
Georgetown’s season was headed in the wrong direction in January. The Hoyas twice scored fewer than 50 points in starting 0-2 in Big East play. They were 2-3 after a road loss to South Florida, which has no other wins against conference opponents. Georgetown hasn’t lost since.
The Hoyas’ run has coincided with forward Otto Porter Jr.’s emergence as a national-player-of-the-year candidate. Clearly the best player in the Big East, Porter seems to make all the timely shots and big plays for Georgetown. It would be a mistake, though, to call Georgetown a one-man team.
The tough-minded bunch is outstanding defensively. “They do such a good job” on defense, Rutgers Coach Mike Rice said. “Everyone [in the conference] talks about how well they communicate and how well they switch.”
A formula of defense and Porter’s scoring has fueled Georgetown’s steady climb in the standings and polls. Against Syracuse, Porter scored a career-high 33 points — the most ever by a Hoyas player against the Orange — as Georgetown ended Syracuse’s home-court winning streak at 38 games.
“We’ve just got to keep it going,” Porter said. “We’ve got to stay working at it . . . coming into practice with the same mind-set that we want to win.”
That’s what has gotten the Hoyas this far. They’ve already had a great season and are making a strong case for a favorable spot in the postseason. It’s an argument that should be hard for the committee to ignore.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.